Feminist Review

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 173–175 | Cite as

Doing women's studies: employment opportunities, personal impacts and social consequences

  • Sue Jackson
Book Review

Gabriele Griffin (editor); Zed Books, London, 2005, 272p, ISBN 1 82277 500 6 £60.00 (Hbk); ISBN 1 84277 501 4 £19.95 (Pbk)

This book results from an EU-funded research project on the impact of women's studies training and employment in Europe. The project explored three key issues: differences in women's studies training across Europe; employment opportunities for women's studies graduates; and the impact of women's studies on the generation of change in the workplace. The book aims to further explore, and to answer, some of the questions raised in the original research. It uses the project's findings to develop the individual chapters, written by the project's research partners, that constitute the book.

This book is a useful addition to work which considers women's employment patterns throughout Europe; a Europe that, as the editor points out in her introduction, is rapidly changing. In 2004:

ten countries, previously described as accession countries, joined (the EU)… significantly shifting the contours of that Union, geographically, politically, ideologically, economically and socio-culturally. (p. 1)

As the Union changes, so too do understandings of education and training within a globalized knowledge economy, with gendered, classed and racialized implications for learners. Although ‘(i)n recent years, the European Union has made access to continuing education one of the priorities in the fight against unemployment’ it has done so in a climate of ‘promotion of economic development and competition in a global market’ (p. 56). Indeed, this may be why the book considers ‘training’ rather than ‘learning’, but I would have liked to have seen more discussion and analysis of this. Gabriele Griffin explains that ‘training’ was used because a significant proportion of women's studies education happens outside of the tertiary education sector (p. 11), but I am not convinced this is sufficient. The main purpose of lifelong learning in Europe appears to be that it leads to economic participation and greater opportunities in the employment market. In its discourse of individual autonomy, lifelong learning becomes the responsibility of individuals to prepare themselves to take their place in a working society. Such a learning agenda (re)constructs the structural inequalities of gender, class and other differences, where certain types of knowledge, skills and work are valued above others and any changes in discourse, policy and practice from ‘learning’ to ‘training’ are political. I would have liked to have known the impact of this – personal, social and economic – for students of women's studies.

I was left wondering about the title of the book, which seems to me to be more about employment opportunities for women in Europe than about women's studies or about personal impacts and social consequences. It may have been helpful to have seen the three key aspects of the book title (employment opportunities, personal impacts and social consequences) used as an organizing structure, to enable themes to be drawn together and developed. While they are of course not discrete areas, and are inter-related and in many ways interdependent, there is little or no discussion of this nor analysis of what such interdependence might mean with regard to gender as well as ‘race’ and social class. There is also the additional issue of age: particularly relevant to women studying women's studies, with its high proportion of ‘mature’ students. The organization of the book is not helped by the lack of a concluding chapter to pull together some of the key themes and to (re)turn to the three aspects of the book's title.

That is not to say that this is not a worthwhile book, full of extremely useful data, tables and figures, including employment opportunities for women in Europe (Chapter 1 by Nicky le Fauvre and Muriel Andriocci); equal opportunities through cross-European perspectives (Chapter 2 by Isabel Carrera Suarez and Laura Vinuela Suarez); and educational migration, mobility and gender (Chapter 6 by Borbala Juhasz et al.). However, although these are all highly relevant to women's studies students, I remain unconvinced of any special argument here for women's studies, and think that the book will have an appeal that moves beyond women's studies. This is important, with the decline of institutional women's studies through much of higher education.

I am not arguing here that women's studies should be written out of the picture: far from it. The book serves an important role in recording and re-telling something of the impact of women's studies on its graduates as well as on wider society. The book demonstrates the (different) values of many women's studies students when it comes to employment practices, including a desire to ‘work differently’ and a high commitment to social change:

Their awareness and knowledge about multiple discrimination mechanisms that operate in the labour market enable them to encourage the widespread adoption of more egalitarian principles in their workplace. (p. 59)

An additional particularly interesting aspect of the book is that of comparative research, and the authors identify some key questions and issues for researchers working with cross-cultural differences, especially with regard to cross-cultural/national perspectives on gender, race, ethnicity and nationality. The chapters on research processes (Chapters 7 and 8, by Gabriele Griffin and Jalna Hanmer, respectively) explore the impact of multidisciplinarity; communication and translation; as well as comparability of databases, especially with regard to questions about race and ethnicity.

The book will then be of interest to researchers working on cross-cultural projects as well as to those working on the impact of gender differences on employment and training in Europe. Although I was at times disappointed with the lack of a thematic approach to this book, I am sure this is a text to which I shall refer in my own research as a source of information and as a valuable resource.

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© Feminist Review Ltd 2006

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  • Sue Jackson

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