Feminist Optics: Gender and Visual Studies



Since 1997, IRW has convened a year-long seminar which brings together faculty and advanced graduate students from a broad range of disciplines and from all three Rutgers campuses (New Brunswick, Newark and Camden). The seminar revolves around an annual theme that is also shared by our distinguished lecture series and undergraduate learning community. The institute's eighteenth annual interdisciplinary seminar takes as its theme "Feminist Optics: Gender and Visual Studies." Selected Rutgers faculty, advanced graduate students and IRW Global Scholars whose projects address this theme will participate in the 2013-2014 seminar, which meets weekly from September through April. Seminar fellows will attend the Thursday morning seminar meetings, provide a paper for discussion in the seminar, and open a seminar session with an extended response to another scholar’s paper.

This seminar will explore the past, present and futures of visual studies and feminist theory’s impact on the field’s development. How has feminist scholarship challenged practices of looking in the academy and beyond?  From interpretations of the female nude in art history to inquiries about the phallocentric gaze of cinema to studies of fashion sign systems, pornography and digital culture, feminist scholarship has opened up new avenues of engaging the visual world and has been foundational to the field of visual studies.

Influenced by literature, cinema and media studies, art history, technology studies, and neuroscience, visual studies has emerged in the past four decades as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that engages what has been described as “the visual turn” in knowledge production and reception.  This includes an emphasis on training students from a very early age to be visually literate and to acquire information and data more frequently through image-based modes of communication.  Also important is bio-medical research that challenges conventional understandings of how people see and acquire information. Crucial to the development of visual studies is the work of several feminist scholars whose theories of subjectivity, the gaze and optics, spectatorship and reception have radically altered studies of visual media, art, culture and technology, and everyday practices more broadly.  The seminar provides an opportunity to take account of these historical, theoretical and disciplinary interventions and to consider their relevance at this moment. In addition to research in visual studies, the seminar invites inquiries into how feminist interventions in visuality and subjectivity have impacted ethnographic studies, empirical data collection, literary studies, interface software and technologies, and archival research. Also of interest are critiques of the primacy of the visual in intellectual inquiry and the growing interest in sound and haptic studies as they relate to gender and perception.

2014-15 Seminar Fellows
2014-15 Seminar Schedule