The application of feminist theory and methodologies to understanding human geography. The intent of feminism is to investigate, reveal, challenge, and change gendered divisions in society. These divisions often manifest themselves as spatial divisions with men and women having different patterns of spatial activity, behaviour, and experiences of place. Feminist geography has thus sought to understand the relationship between gender divisions and spatial divisions, and to challenge their supposed naturalness and legitimacy. This includes examining gender roles and divisions in the discipline itself with respect to the foci of study, the history, and practice of geography, and the balance of men and women working as professional geographers and career structures (see women in geography), and challenging how geographical research is conceptualized and practised.
Feminist geography developed from the late 1970s onwards, building on the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and radical geography’s challenge to examine and to transform spatial divisions in society. A principal argument was that gender roles and the uneven and unequal positions and power of women and men in society had up to then been largely ignored by geographers. Early work demonstrated that gender relations were the outcome of and reflected in the spatial structure of society. Men and women experience material inequalities in terms of access to work, wealth, power, and status that produce different spatial relations with respect to access to public and private space and time-geographies. For example, women are much more likely to experience spatial behaviour restricted to the home and delimited by child-care and domestic duties, and to undertake work that facilitates these duties such as a part-time job located close to home. These inequalities were shown to be reproduced through patriarchy, which is entrenched in social, political and economic institutions, and popular discourse and the media, and works to maintain a persistent, gendered power geometry. In subsequent work, feminist geographers highlighted the interrelations between patriarchy, identity, embodiment, and spatial subjectivities, and how their entangling produces gendered, embodied, and emotional geographies. Importantly, feminist scholarship has also examined the ways in which gendered divisions are historically and geographically differentiated, varying over time, and across space and cultures. Such studies show how gender relations have evolved in particular locales and how they are differently constituted and experienced in different places.
As with feminism more broadly, feminist geography has evolved over time so that it presently consists of a family of theoretical positions, ranging from approaches that are more structuralist in orientation, such as socialist feminism, that situates women’s oppression within the broader framework of class oppression and capital exploitation, through to post-structuralism that recognizes the plurality and differences amongst women and the contingent, relational, and contextual ways in which gender divisions are reproduced. Moreover, given its focus on power, feminist theory has been extended to understand and explain other forms of spatial division centred on identity and cultural politics. This has led to productive engagements of feminist theory with other social theories such as post-colonialism, for example. What unites these various approaches is a commitment to exposing gender and spatial divisions, and to tackle such divisions. Unlike many theoretical approaches that seek to be objective and impartial in the production of knowledge, feminism is explicitly ideological in that it seeks to transform that which it studies (see feminist standpoint theory).
Part of this commitment is to transform the practices and structures of geography itself. To that end feminist geographers have made critical interventions into the conduct of research in geography, introducing feminist epistemologies and methodologies that challenge the masculinist formulation of science as objective, neutral, and value-free, instead arguing that research always has a positionality that produces situated knowledge. They have thus highlighted the masculinist nature of fieldwork and made the case for more interpretative approaches to research that utilize qualitative methods. These new epistemologies and methods have been adopted widely across the discipline and applied to a wide range of foci beyond gender.
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