Learning Objectives

The Learning Objectives for the major are consonant with the general philosophy of Trinity College with more specific guidelines on education in gender-based scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Knowledge students are expected to gain

Students will gain a clear understanding of the major movements of feminist thought and related areas of the body of knowledge making up the field of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies.

The strength of the Major is that it offers students comprehensive instruction in the rich interdisciplinary traditions of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies scholarship, and most importantly, its emphasis on intersectional, international, and transnational approaches and perspectives. Such traditions include materialist, liberal, critical race, poststructuralist, postcolonial, queer, diasporic, and psychoanalytic feminist scholarship. The major also explains the history of itself as a host of new objects of study, modes of inquiry, and speculative projects have come into being, such that it is no longer accurate to describe Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies—which was formerly known as Women's Studies—as the study of women. We do study women, but we also study masculinity, sexuality, the historical emergence of identity as a form of human self-recognition, the relationship between nation formation and gender systems, the force and form of race and ethnicity. We show how feminism is a historical movement and a tradition of critical thought.

Program Methodologies

For an increasing number of practitioners in the field, including most of the faculty in the program at Duke, Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies is less the name of an object of study—women—than a domain of inquiry including a variety of methodologies employed to address gender related issues.

Introductory courses to Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies as an interdisciplinary field teach each student how to analyze gender in its complex intersection with race, class, and sexuality. This is referred to in the field as “intersectionality.” By forging connections between personal experience and larger social institutions and practices, they orient students toward a critical vocabulary that includes (but is not limited to): the sex/gender distinction; biological determinism, ideology, commodity culture, essentialism and social construction; the sexual division of labor; colonization and postcoloniality; imperialism, racialization; and heteronormativity. The field employs a variety of methodologies both drawn from the traditional disciplines and altered when necessary for a more nuanced theoretical understanding of gender than is sometimes possible within those methodologies. For example, quantitative methodologies rarely supply the forms of nuance necessary for an understanding of intersectionality. More advanced courses instruct students in: a) interdisciplinary methods for understanding definitions of culture, ranging from anthropology, sociology, political science, literature,and film; b) developing skills in writing across the disciplines through a topical focus on issues central to contemporary gender studies.  In addition, they c) provide students with a rich understanding of the events that shape contemporary culture’s portrayal of feminism, both in the US and as a global discourse about women and social change; d) orient students to perform some critique of these narratives. It is our hope that students understand both the strengths and the shortcomings of the particular ways U.S. feminism has been executed, and to do so from within a broader historical understanding of the western critical frameworks on which feminism has often unconsciously relied.

In this regard, the major contextualizes the necessity, articulated throughout our undergraduate curriculum, of an intersectional and post-US national perspective for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies as an interdisciplinary field.

Development of Intellectual Skills

The major trains students in critical thinking in various disciplinary traditions, the ethics of understanding disciplinary responsibility in order to conduct interdisciplinary work, and to attune students in gender and related forms of analyses.Three objectives of this sort of learning are critical thinking, ethical development and analysis techniques.

As an interdisciplinary field that explicitly focuses on the interconnections between a number of key questions regarding the production of knowledge about gender and its social, political, material, technological and discursive implications, GSF Studies is not organized according to discrete “subfields.” As such our core faculty does not reflect such a breakdown. However, each of our core faculty provides the program with different methodological approaches to engaging the intellectual skills for analyzing the dynamic articulations of gender in society, on the basis of research conducted in a variety of specific sites of scholarly engagement. Students learn to work with different expectations of critical thinking and intellectual skills like close reading, archival work, anthropological field work, and different theoretical bodies of knowledge from political science, literature, psychology, historiography, and philosophy. They also learn the challenges of bringing these together to allow the assumptions of one discipline to be exposed, enhanced, or challenged by another.

Indicators of Achievement of Objective Goals

  • Demonstrating knowledge of the historical and philosophical trends in the field.
  • Understanding the scope and changes within the field with an ability to assess strengths and weaknesses of various positions, methods, and beliefs.
  • Being disciplinarily responsible and understanding the strengths and limitations of interdisciplinary work.

Goals for the Major

Duke GSF studies seeks to incorporate perspectives from across the broad spectrum of the humanities and social sciences and to present the full range of feminist political and theoretical stances. Our curriculum gives students various opportunities to study women, to develop a gender and/or sexuality analysis, and to critically conceptualize both the history and intellectual formation of feminism as a political movement and knowledge project.

The upper division core sequence is designed to give students a way to place Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies in historical, political, economic, and theoretical perspective. It creates an opportunity to study major intellectual traditions in feminist thought and to engage the strengths and limitations of the field's own formation.