Gendered Agency

Although the term agency has become increasingly popular in contemporary scholarship, the concept remains underspecified and often misused. What does agency mean? How is it constituted and expressed? Where is it located? How does agency shape and become shaped by structures of power like colonialism, capitalism, religion, and the media? Often "agency" is conflated with "resistance," and shaped by assumptions from classical Western thought about rational subjects exercising free will. Recent feminist work, however, has challenged the "romance of resistance" and assumptions about rational agents to offer more nuanced analyses of agency sensitive to questions of power, consciousness, intentionality, subjectivity, culture, history, ethnicity, race, class, sexuality and gender. But what evidence "counts" as reflective of gendered agency and how do we read and/or interpret how and why certain forms of agency are gendered?

This seminar addressed how attention to gender complicates and challenges contemporary understandings, uses and expressions of agency. Seminar fellows considered whether there are explicitly gendered forms of agency, and how these are constituted, expressed, and experienced at different times, in different places, and through different media. By thinking about the relationship of gender and agency through a comparative, interdisciplinary lens, seminar participants explored the specific social histories, political struggles, cultural assumptions, spiritual beliefs, economic constraints, and biological factors that shape how and why males and females act as they do.



irw seminar spring 10 

Pictured: Ishani Maitra, Alex Warner, Rocío Magaña, Anna Sampaio, Bahia Munem, Susan Marchand, Ruth Glynn, Claudia Brazzale, Arlene Stein, Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz, Sara Angevine, Darcie Fontaine, Betty Livingston Adams, Jane Real, Nancy Rao, Dorothy Hodgson, Sarah Tobias. Not pictured: Aimee Cox, Bridget Gurtler, Allan Isaac, Cheryl McLean, Julie Rajan, Deborah Gray White.

2009-10 seminar participants included fellows from departments including African Studies, American Studies, Music (Mason Gross School of the Arts), Anthropology, History, the Graduate School of Education, Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy, and Women's and Gender Studies, as well as IRW Global Scholars from the United Kingdom, Italy, and several national colleges and universities.


Seminar Schedule

Seminar Abstracts