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Feminist geographies

Introduction to feminist geographies

Feminism exists to critically and self-reflexively examine how systems of power function in everyday life. Feminist geographies, through their focus on social differences such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality, draw attention to how important differences are in shaping our experiences of space and location. Feminist geographies emerged in the 1980s as a shift in thought within the field of geography, and has taken two directions in particular. The first strand sought to make the discipline of geography more open towards women, through fairer hiring processes and attempts to change repressive cultures in individual faculties. The second strand of feminist geography focused on encouraging geographers to gain an interest in developing gender-sensitive knowledge which included women’s studies and issues relevant to women’s lives. Since the early days of feminism as part of geography, attention to gender has developed into an emphasis on social differences and on the more consistent interpretation of these.

Feminist geographers have emphasised the importance of corporeality, emotions and intimate spaces in their geographical research. Today, the term “feminist” has many meanings within the field of geography.

It can be used simply to show that someone is working in the field of geography with a feminist perspective, no matter what subject they are studying. In general, their work would, for example, come under the heading of any of the more traditional sub-disciplines, including political, economic, social or environmental geography.

In relation to research methodology and ethics, feminist geographical approaches may emphasise the use of participatory and inclusive methods in research and publishing.

Feminist geographies are often rooted in issues of social justice, bearing in mind that research can be used as a tool to draw attention to how the communities in question are affected and negatively impacted by the oppressive forces at work in the world.

Feminist geographers are concerned with how people experience and deal with influential systems of power, such as governmental and corporate bodies or various problematic social norms, in their everyday lives.

Core literature and reviews in the field of feminist geography

Many early reviews in the field of feminist geography were attempts to further legitimise the role of feminism within the discipline, often advocating the importance of this line of study and attempting to engage in a broad dialogue with human geographers, particularly with regard to the value of incorporating feminism into geographical research and supporting feminist geographers (who were usually women). Massey 1994; Jones, et al. 1997; McDowell and Sharp 1997; and McDowell 1999 are examples of these earlier works that focused on emphasising research which is most often grouped under the term “feminist geography”.

While early work was based on a broadly defined feminism which acted as a thread connecting this work, feminist geographies continue to evolve and diversify, making it far more difficult to simply group work together under the label of ‘feminism’ today. As a result, more recent papers tend to be based on specific themes within the field of feminist geography, such as corporeality, feminist geopolitics or sexuality studies.

Currently, Czech feminist geographies are still at the beginning of their development, and it is impossible to talk about their firm establishment in Czech geographical thought (Pitoňák, Klingorová 2019), despite the fact that repeated calls for the establishment of feminist geographies have already been published within Czech and Slovak geographical thought (Blažek, Rochovská 2006; Pospíšilová, Pospíšilová 2014).

Jones, John Paul, Heidi J. Nast, and Susan M. Roberts, eds. Thresholds in Feminist Geography. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997.

This edited collection attempts to show the status of feminist geographies by looking at their ‘limits’: the past, present and future of feminism in geography. The book includes contemporary research by feminist geographers and also addresses prevalent issues within this sub-discipline.

Massey, Doreen B. Space, Place, and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

A collection of essays written by Massey, which focus on the ways in which social relations affect how people experience spaces and places, including her understanding of space-time as a framework for conceptualising intersectionality and the multiplicity of the self in any given space.

McDowell, Linda. Gender, Identity and Place: Understanding Feminist Geographies. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1999.

Exploring gender dynamics and the importance of the local environment, this book critiques the prevailing emphasis within geographical thought which in which the global world and processes of globalisation are given privilege.

McDowell, Linda, and Joanne P. Sharp, eds. Space, Gender, Knowledge: Feminist Readings. New York: John Wiley, 1997.

A number of the essays in this edited collection include work by prominent scholars and researchers from the early days in which external feminist thought come into contact with geography, for example, feminists such as Elizabeth Grosz and Judith Butler. Following an introductory section on the relationship between gender and geographical thought, the chapters of this book highlight the practice of feminist geography in the fields of environmental, the body, everyday spaces, labour and political research.

Nelson, Lise, and Joni Seager, eds. A Companion to Feminist Geography. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

This edited collection of works brings together various key figures in the field of feminist geography, with essays focusing on various sub-disciplines of geography, including economic geography, urban geography, geographies of embodiment, political ecology, and political geography.

Women and Geography Study Group of the Royal Geographic Society. Feminist Geographies: Explorations in Diversity and Difference. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, 1997.

This book, written in collaboration with multiple authors for each chapter, aims to reflect the current state of feminist geographies and to show the evolution of the field. This work has been designed to support teaching and is intended to for use as a tool for teaching undergraduate geography. As such, it is peppered with excerpts from important works by feminist geographers, as well as activities and discussion points aimed at improving students’ understanding of the scholarly practice of feminist geographies.

Blažek, M., & Rochovská, A. (2006). Feministické geografie. Bratislava: Geografika.

The most comprehensive introduction to the sub-discipline of feminist geographies published in Slovak to date. Despite the considerable sophistication of this book, its contribution to the field has not been sufficiently appreciated.

Pospíšilová, L., & Pospíšilová, K. (2014). Feministické prostory. In R. Matoušek & R. Osman (Eds.), Prostor(y) Geografie (pp. 99–122). Prague: Karolinum.

One of the more recent reviews aimed at contributing to the acceptance of feminist geographical thought in Czech geography.

Note: This introduction to the field does not presume to present the field of feminist geography in all its complexity; it is based on a translation of the introduction published by Carrie Mott on the Oxford Bibliographies website. If you are interested in the development of the field of feminist geographies