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Mainstreaming Politics


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Malin Rönnblom launches Mainstreaming Politics:

Adelaide 28 May 2010

"I would like to start with expressing my sincere gratitude for the invitation to launch this book. It’s a privilege and an honour for me, both being able to read the book before everyone else and especially for having the opportunity to say some words about the book today.

I encountered the work of Carol quite many years ago now, and reading her 1999 book Women, Policy and Politics was a major eye-opener for me. It made me realise that policy studies actually could be both interesting and critical. This also led to me inviting Carol to Sweden 7 years ago. Although I’ve encountered the work of Joan, and especially her joint work with Carol, I never did meet Joan, which of course on a day like this feels both a bit odd and a bit sad. As I am just commencing a new project that concerns among other things the organisation of the university it would have been very fruitful and interesting to meet and discuss this with Joan, especially after reading Mainstreaming Politics. I can just say that reading the book gave me a glimpse of what must have been a very fruitful collaboration and that I’m grateful to Joan for making the final efforts that were needed to make this book possible, and to Carol for, on her own, having the courage and strength to finalise this book as a joint publication.

The book Mainstreaming Politics is in my view an immensely important contribution to the field of gender studies, both more generally because it addresses crucial questions of how to conceptualise gender, also in relation to the so called other dimensions of privilege and power such as ethnicity, race and class, and because it puts forward a gender analysis that reaches outside the empirical focus of this publication, and more specificly in relation to the quite broad field of studies on gender equality and gender mainstreaming, not least in the Nordic countries and Europe.

I would like to address three aspects of the book that I see as important, although I must admit that it was not easy to limit myself to three, but we are not really here to listen to me, but to socialise, have fun and celebrate the work of brilliant scholars, so I will try to stick to these three.

The first aspect is that the book starts from an understanding of policies as processes and policies as productive. This may sound self-evident but I still think that it is quite provocative to say that policies give shape to political problems, or as it is put in the book: “Policies do not simply ‘impact’ on people, they ‘create’ people.” You could also say that policy is never ‘done with’ or implemented once and for all; rather, policy is an ongoing process where both problems and subjects are constructed.

In the Introduction to the book Carol and Joan set out two central propositions:

  • Policies are gendering practices, and hence it is essential that fundamental precepts in policy proposals be scrutinised for their gendering effects.
  • The practice of gender analysis enables a politics of movement – a non-linear and unpredictable shifting of hearts and minds.

Mainstreaming Politics shows us the possibilities of applying a critical approach to policy and policy making, not seeing policy as something out there but as produced, also by us. Or, to quote the book: “ gender analysis processes need to provide scope for putting in question strategic policy goals and for attending to the ways in which policy produces gender.” This also points to the understanding of gender as a process, as doing gender, and how the doing also opens up spaces for undoing, for change.

I think that this book really shows us the creative and fruitful possibilities of critical policy analysis and critical organisation studies in both analysing policy and organisations but also in changing policy and organisations.

And I would like to point out this relationship between critical scrutiny and political change as a major contribution of Mainstreaming Politics.  This book illustrates the rich potential of discourse studies and poststructural analysis in contributing to practices of change. In other words, the book is a very good example of the necessity of having a critical approach if you are interested in implementing gender mainstreaming, a statement that counters  what I see as the dominant discourse on gender mainstreaming (at least in Sweden) that puts benchmarking, best practice and toolkits in the centre of attention at the same time as ‘complicated analysis’ is often disregarded as not useful.

The second aspect is about collaborative work and the need to be reflexive. I think that one of the first things that struck me when reading the book was that it did not feel like ‘just a collection of articles’, and that’s a bit strange, because in a way that’s exactly what it’s about. The majority of the chapters have been published earlier, although most of them are collaborative pieces, written by Carol and Joan, and also by others.

In the book Carol and Joan state that “Reflexivity is an essential tool in gender analysis research.” Reflexivity, to situate yourself in the research process, to accept and also make use of that insight and to see this as politics and power at play may be one of the more crucial aspects of feminist research. There is a long tradition in feminist research to acknowledge the position of the researcher, as an active subject in the research, that the researcher also contributes to the research process, that the researcher plays a role, that the researcher also is political.

In Mainstreaming Politics I think that this position is very alive, and I see the main reason for this being that there is a reflexive position both inside the analytical arguments themselves, but also – and as important – in how the book is built up. The effort Carol and Joan put into writing not only a very useful introduction and a conclusion that frames the rest of the chapters, but also into introducing each chapter makes it possible for me as a reader to follow your arguments. The book becomes an ongoing conversation and it is also to a certain extent possible to see the points where I can guess that you disagreed ... something I found very fruitful.

I also think that this emphasis on taking a reflexive position has contributed to the engagement and collaborative work that has been a large part of the project that is the focus of the book. Seeing that you as a researcher are as much a part of policy as the so called practitioners is a fruitful way of overcoming classic divisions of us and them, and in that way also to promote a collaborative work for change.

In this context I also would like to mention one of the conclusions of the book, pointing to the need for time and space in order to carry out a gender analysis. And time and space is often lacking, especially when dealing with issues such as gender mainstreaming which seldom are placed on the top of the agenda in an organisation. Here I can clearly see the links between the work I have been doing with women active inside the bureaucracy in Sweden. When time and space are provided their engagement and contribution in similar forms of gender analysis are impressive.

The third aspect is the audience for the book and the possibility of a free download of the book. As I said in my introduction, issues of gender equality policies and gender mainstreaming are at the forefront of gender studies, both in the Nordic countries and in Europe, and I believe also in the US although I don’t know that situation as well. Of course there are exceptions but I would say that there is a lack of more critical studies in this field, studies that problematise gender equality and gender mainstreaming, not just measuring them or suggesting if for example gender mainstreaming is a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ strategy. Here Mainstreaming Politics fills an important gap, showing us that studies on mainstreaming both could be critical, scrutinising, not taking gender mainstreaming for granted, at the same time as it shows us the possibilities of collaboration between researchers and so called practitioners, not pretending that researchers are more ‘outside’ of what they/we are doing than people having the task of implementing gender policy in, for example, public administration.

Having said this, I also would like to stress the broad audience that is waiting for this book.

This is a book for researchers interested in organisation studies and policy studies – both broadly and in the more specific field of gender equality and gender mainstreaming studies, for researchers interested in gender theory and discursive approaches to the studies of organisations and politics, and for practitioners doing gender analysis in their daily work. It’s also an obvious book for the curricula in gender studies. And here I think that the impact of the possibility to download the book will mean that it will make it into more or less all undergraduate education in gender studies, at least in Sweden. Issues of gender mainstreaming and gender equality are very much addressed and discussed in our undergraduate courses and many of our students are very interested in these issues. What Mainstreaming Politics gives us is a book that both addresses these topics AND introduces useful ways of theorising and analysing gender as practice and as political.
Finally I just want to draw your attention to the very last section of the book where Carol and Joan say: ‘More generally, the book challenges feminists to see themselves as politically invested cultural being who need to examine critically the analytical categories they adopt and to participate in collaborative spaces with diverse groups of women.’

As I just said, this is a book that will have several kinds of readers, and I also think that all of them in some way will be challenged by the content. And for me, this is the best thing you could say about a book, that it challenges you, that it makes you think in a way that is at least slightly not the same as before. And yes, you challenged me, but maybe more important, you gave me hope that there is still space in the academy for inside/outside collaborative – and political – work. So thank you very much!"

Carol Bacchi replies to Malin Rönnblom, and explains the front cover...

"I have the happy task of thanking all the people who made this event possible.

Let me begin by thanking each and every one of you for being here. Book launches are a time of celebration, and it is lovely to have so many good  friends with whom to celebrate.

I’d like to thank the University of Adelaide Press and the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender for co-hosting the event. Particular thanks to John Emerson and the University of Adelaide Press team for helping to produce such a beautiful book.

Thank you to Martha Augoustinos for overseeing the proceedings and to Malin Ronnblom for agreeing to launch the book. I feel very lucky to have someone with Malin’s background and experience with gender mainstreaming in Europe here to do this. Her positive endorsement of the book means a great deal to me.

I wish to thank all the contributors to the book, some of whom are here this evening (Catherine Mackenzie, Katy Osborne and Susan Harwood).

I also wish to thank all the people involved in the journey that became the book, the journey being the Gender Analysis Project. There are people here this evening who were there at the start of the project in 2004 (Lindy McAdam and Carmel O’Loughlin) and people who saw it through to the very end in 2008 (Fiona Mort and Margaret Cameron).

Special thanks to Anne Wilson who oversaw the typing and correction of the manuscript, and who assisted me with the index. Her help and guidance were invaluable.

I think  most of you know that this is a very special book. It is the product of the meeting of several minds and bodies over a period of some five years, guided by myself and Joan Eveline, who died in mid-2009. I’m so pleased Joan’s daughter, Jen De Ness, could be here today, having travelled from Perth specifically for the launch.

The book tells some things about how Joan and I worked together. It does, I hope, do justice to her creativity and sensitivity. I see its main purpose as ensuring that as many people as possible get to engage with Joan’s ideas and insights.

Joan’s work in the early 1990s on the politics of advantage, which challenged the common framing of women’s disadvantage to bring men’s advantage into focus, was ground-breaking. Joan continued to ask the hard question in her ongoing scholarship. Knowing Joan and Michael, and counting them as close friends has been a very special privilege.

In the lead-up to the launch I went looking for an image or model of an author that matches the practices of Joan and I as co-authors.

I would like to ‘pick up’ as idea from Engin Isin, author of Being Political, who borrows the idea from Robin Osborne (Greece in the Making 1200-477 BC).

Isin (2002: 92) says: ‘… for Osborne (1996: 152) the persona of the poet is a composite of “successive poets [who] have drawn on the traditions within which they work” …’

I rather like this as an image for authors in general and for Joan and me in particular.

Authors in this view ‘assemble’ ideas, concepts and ‘feelings’.

They ‘borrow’ freely from others and in this case from each other.

But the ‘borrowing’ is a dynamic practice, that produces free perspectives in the process of transition and translation.

I think the book traces this dynamic practice.

Why is this vision of an author as an ‘assemblage’ useful?

I think it may help explain the phenomenon Siri Husvedt (2010: 72) describes in her new book The Shaking Woman:  A History of My Nerves, the phenomenon of ‘automatic writing’ (or, with a touch of humorous sarcasm, ‘literate alien hand syndrome’), ‘the feeling that words are being dictated to the author rather than actually composed’, that a kind of collective unconscious helps us along – a particularly apt image of concluding the writing of this book once Joan had died.

The book cover speaks to the conjoining of perspectives that I see as the hallmark of the book.

I thought long and hard about a suitable cover, something that would capture the complex processes we discuss.

I thought about Deleuze’s concept of the rhizome, the thick underground stem whose buds produce new plants.

But rhizomes, which are as I’ve said underground, proved difficult to photograph.

I received some odd glances in the grocery store as I sorted through the box of ginger seeking a photogenic piece.

And then it happened. Stephen will remember.

We were sitting in the living room and I noticed that the shadow cast by our glory vine on our white outside wall looked distinctly rhizomatic. I grabbed the camera.

When I examined the photo it proved to be even more meaningful than first imagined. I realized that the bars supporting the vine added a crucial dimension, representing the restraints on the endless proliferations implied by the concept of the rhizome.

I say ‘restraints’ rather than ‘constraints’ because the bars shape growth in particular directions, rather than stopping growth. They both constrain and enable.

So there you have it!

Now I’m sure you all saw that straight away. You looked at the cover and said, ‘Ah yes, rhizomes with restraints, how clever!’

I’d like to thank Fiona Cameron and John Emerson for turning my amateur efforts into such a polished and pleasing presentation.

The book challenges many conventions and disrupts several current orthodoxies – which will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with Joan’s work and my work.

In its mode of production, thanks to the University of Adelaide Press, it privileges access over ownership.

Its central message is about best practices, not ‘best practice’.

It is about process rather than ‘outcomes’.

The book concludes by declaring its commitment to research as political practice – a very difficult position to defend in this era of ‘evidence-based policy’.

I hope you like the cover as much as I do and that you find something in the book that proves useful to you.

Thanks to you all again, most sincerely, for coming."


ISIN, ENGIN F. 2002 Being Political: Genealogies of Citizenship. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

HUSVEDT, SIRI 2010. The Shaking Woman: A history of my nerves. London: Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton).

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