‘This is education as the practice of freedom': Twenty Years of Women’s Studies at the University of Oxford


  • Eleri Watson University of oxford
  • Charlotte De Val University of Oxford
  • Charlotte De Val University of Oxford
  • Eleri Anona Watson University of Oxford




Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Feminism, University of Oxford, Education, Pedagogy


On 23 May 2015 students on the Women’s Studies Masters (M.St course) at the University of Oxford organised a conference to commemorate twenty years of Women’s Studies at Oxford, entitled: ‘Teaching to Transgress’: Twenty Years of Women’s Studies at Oxford. The conference consisted of a mixture of papers from leading academics in the field of Women’s Studies, as well as from postgraduate students currently enrolled on the M.St programme at Oxford, with the intention of giving young early career women the opportunity to present their research to a broad interdisciplinary audience.

Since its foundation in 1995, the Women’s Studies course has strived to enact what the American feminist and activist bell hooks terms ‘education as the practice of freedom’.[1] Reflecting upon the discussions emerging from the conference, the conference organisers Charlotte De Val and Eleri Anona Watson ask: ‘what are the new and repeated challenges we face in fulfilling this practice of freedom?’ They also consider the changing scope of Women’s Studies as an academic field alongside present debates regarding its future in the UK and further afield. Examining debates of ‘possibility’ and ‘impossibility’ within Women’s Studies—that is to say, materialist versus post-structuralist critiques—in conjunction with questions of accessibility and ‘intellectual gatekeeping’, this article proposes that the future of Women's Studies is not the ‘apocalyptic’ vision that its critics would often have us believe. Indeed, one of the themes emerging from the conference was that as long as the field practices radical self-questioning and self-critique, Women’s Studies will maintain its academically and socially transformative potential.

[1] bell hooks’s writings cover gender, race, teaching, education and media, emphasising the connections with systems of oppression. hooks is the author of pioneering works such as Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (1981), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre (1984) and Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice (2013), and remains a leading public intellectual in feminist and educational studies.


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