skip to content

Founding Conference

"[...] Institutionalization is at the same time an opportunity to reflect on what gender and queer studies mean in the present and what challenges they face. It is an opportunity to examine one's own concerns and place them in new contexts and, as Helke Sander said in 1968 for the upcoming second women's movement: "to try to find the right questions".

-Susanne Völker

On 22 June 2012, the foundation stone was laid for Gender Studies in Cologne – GeStiK under the responsibility of Susanne Völker (scientific director) and Dirk Schulz (managing director). With the two-day conference  'Immer beweGENDER. Transformations (in) of Gender Studies' a new scientific centre for gender studies was founded. Institutionally affiliated to the University of Cologne, it is also located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia linking up with state-wide political and scientific and formation processes in gender research.

The public inauguration of Gender Studies in Cologne was opened by Annelene Gäckle (Central Equal Opportunities Officer of the University of Cologne), Hans-Joachim Roth (Dean of the Faculty of Human Sciences), and Max Christian Derichsweiler (Student Representative). They emphasized the importance of the Center's tasks and goals and paid tribute to the commitment of the two founders.

Conference Report

"Always Moving (Immer beweGENDER). Transformations (in) of Gender Studies"

GeStiK - Gender Studies in Cologne is a new, cross-faculty centre at the University of Cologne that was founded with the aim of gathering gender studies projects and lending them more institutional weight. Such a central structure, which brings together several Cologne universities, is perhaps more important than ever today, when even excellence initiatives are tied to gender mainstreaming. However, the founding of the centre also met with the ongoing demands of Cologne students for an independent Gender Studies course. Another important concern of GeStiK is to highlight and support the interdisciplinary potential of Gender Studies. At the two-day founding conference "Immer beweGENDER. Transformations (in) of Gender Studies", which took place from 22 to 23 June 2012 in Cologne, these very approaches were discussed. The question of what gender (today) means and how and in what way gender studies should be conducted had exciting potential. The methodological-theoretical differences came to the fore again and again, especially in the individual panels and panel discussions, and provided for lively discussions. However, one must understand these differences as a strength of GeStiK, because the center does not only focus on gender differences, but also refers to an intersectional approach. The conference was distinguished by its mixture of scientific and socio-critical points of view.

The programme of the conference can be summed up in three keywords that were used throughout the conference: Interdisciplinarity, intersectionality and transformations. The keyword 'interdisciplinarity' was already frequently used at public events and was put into practice in the panels with contributions from a wide variety of disciplinary contexts - including, for example, historical educational research, ethnology, literary studies, musicology and educational psychology. Within this interdisciplinary framework, quantitative, empirical methods met with more abstract, theoretical approaches. The encounters took place not only between the lecturers themselves, but also between the lecturers and the audience. For example, criticism of certain ethnological projects was voiced from a postcolonial perspective; moreover, the University of Cologne's policy of equality and anti-discrimination was discussed because of its linear figures of thought.

Gender, on the other hand, was not the only identity category to be addressed. The need to think differences differently was introduced with the concept of 'intersectionality', to which even a separate panel was dedicated. In her evening lecture (keynote), UTE SACKSOFSKY (Frankfurt) outlined the concept as a starting point for important current transformations in gender studies. In her jurisprudential lecture on equality and gender, Sacksofsky focused in particular on Kimberlé Crenshaw's pioneering work. But even though the term seemed to be very important to everyone involved, there were few project ideas that explicitly dealt with intersectionality. Nevertheless, one has the impression that intersectionality is becoming more and more important and requires a more pronounced scientific reception in Germany.

Of course, the transformations that the conference bears in its title were the subject of many lectures that presented gender themes in historical contexts. At the same time, however, the title of the conference was aimed at something even more general that concerned all contributions: the transformations of gender studies as a field of research itself. Queer-theoretical approaches and the concept of post-categorical thinking, which some perceive as threatening, pointed to strong transformations in gender studies. The impression arose that although changes in gender studies are evident in many places, they are pushed into the background at the same time.

A glance at the individual panels provides information on the diversity and high quality of the contributions: After a welcoming speech, which was very much influenced by the success of the Cologne Excellence Initiative, the first panel on gender justice began with a contribution by ELKE KLEINAU (Cologne), which looked back on the history of gender equality at universities around 1900 and in the 1960s. In her interpretation of the Kirchhoff Study of 1897 and the Anger Study of the 1960s, the speaker showed how lasting prejudices and stereotypes about women can be discerned in academia. The subsequent lecture by CLAUDIA NIKODEM (Cologne) added a current dimension to these insights by taking a critical look at the transformations of gender equality policy at the University of Cologne over the last twenty years in a theoretically sophisticated way. Nikodem problematized the idea of progress in the field of gender equality and anti-discrimination policy at the University of Cologne. The critical potential of the panel increased further with the lecture by MAIKE HELLMIG (Cologne), who showed with Kurzweil and Elan the parallels between two social constructions, namely that between gender and excellence.

In the panel on intersectionality and diversity, the short-term cancellation of ANNE WALDSCHMIDT (Cologne) probably limited the understanding of intersectionality by at least one dimension. Without her contribution to disability and gender, the panel lacked a dynamic that might have combined the other contributions. SUSANNE VÖLKER (Cologne) gave a lecture on the precarization of (paid) work and brought Butler and Bourdieu together in her discussion of the term precarization. Völker combined queer-theoretical concepts with empirical methods, which together pointed to a promising research strategy that includes a new integration model. The ethnologist SIMONE PFEIFER (Cologne), who spoke on behalf of DOROTHEA SCHULZ about the role of women in Mali in the Islamic renewal movement, also presented her own project on the use of media such as Facebook or wedding albums by immigrant women from Senegal. Although the relevance of diversity was clear in the ethnological projects, the connection to intersectionality was not further explained during the subsequent discussion.

The panel on Queer Theory was the centerpiece of the whole conference. The literary historical contribution by BEATE NEUMEIER (Cologne) gathered text examples from the Elizabethan Theatre, which showed how playwrights such as Jonson, Fletcher or Shakespeare stage the monstrosity of women in various genres of drama. CLAUDIA LIEBRAND (Cologne) also examined genre-specific queer elements, but from the middle of the 20th century in two so-called "Hollywood Sex Comedies". Liebrand's queer reading highlighted ambiguities in Pillow Talk and That Touch of Mink that enable alternative readings of the films: instead of viewing them as superficial, conservative and heteronormative actions, Liebrand argued that the films do not make fun of homosexuality by inviting people to laugh along. The lecture by DIRK SCHULZ (Cologne) was based on a different understanding of 'queer reading', which showed that a queer attitude to identity is often directed against any fixation on sexuality, gender or other categories. With readings from The Picture of Dorian Gray and Mrs. Dalloway, Schulz showed how literary methods and queer theory can be brought together to question the supposed naturalness of identities and concepts. During the final discussion there were many comments on Schulz's theses, which were more affirmative than critical. MONIKA SCHOOP (Cologne) spoke about the historical meeting of music research, pop music and gender research. Although the presentation was very entertaining and accompanied by entertaining music videos, an insight into Schoop's research project and his positioning in music and gender research within the panel would probably have been more appropriate than a historical overview.

Two very different presentations met in the panel on education and learning. ANDREA GUTENBERG (Cologne) gave an insight into scientific research on foreign language learning in relation to gender and queer studies. Gutenberg showed that gender issues are often marginalized in English teaching, but that at the same time there are new impulses from Queer Theory that offer application-oriented methods for teachers. URSULA KESSELS (Cologne) presented the results of various studies on identity regulation, which show that certain school subjects are strongly associated with gender-specific characteristics. The differences between the disciplinary approaches were visible in the contrast between Kessel's empirical methods and Gutenberg's theoretically informed, but also practice-oriented lecture. Unfortunately, CHRISTINE GARBE was not present to present her lecture on the basics and outlines of a gender-sensitive curriculum that could have provided a further pedagogical perspective on the empirics of psychological research.

The last panel on the subject of masculinity was very varied and connected such diverse things as historical perspectives on early German cinema, high school students around 1900, and the role of the American West in 19th-century African American masculinities. The panel began with an introduction to critical masculinity studies by BRITT DAHMEN (Cologne), the host of this panel. As a replacement for the lecture by NORBERT FINZSCH (Cologne), who could not be present, CHRISTIANE KÖNIG (Cologne) presented her habilitation project, in which she examines queer masculinities in German cinema from the perspective of media cultural studies. One would have wished for more time to ask questions, especially since König is still in the exciting initial phase of her project. WOLFGANG GIPPERT (Cologne) then presented the "overburdening debate" in the German Empire, a debate about the strenuous and in part immoral conditions at the grammar schools, which around 1900 triggered approaches from various fields. Gippert combined this educational crisis with a "crisis of masculinity" at the turn of the century. However, the connection remained a marginal note, and the critical points for studies of masculinity accordingly remained implicit. DOMINIK OHREM (Cologne) presented his project on Afro-American constructions of masculinity and the role of the frontier. Unfortunately, Ohrem could not explain all of his points due to lack of time, which was a pity especially with regard to his historical documents and pictures.

The "Input" session, in which qualification works were presented, gave an insight into three projects from three very different areas. JOHANNES BREUER presented the results of his analysis of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with queer perspectives, with an emphasis on power relations and their impact on the diegetic level of film and on the extra-diegetic level of the media. BERIT VÖLZMANN is doing her doctorate on gender discrimination in economic advertising and showed through her legal argumentation how sexist advertising is also legally discriminatory. KATHARINA DESERNO presented her project to Lisa Cristiani, the first female cellist to appear in public. With the help of a profound knowledge of music history, Deserno showed how Cristiani included 19th century discourses in her diaries that were strongly informed by gender normativity.

The two days were full of projects, ideas and wishes for the future of GeStiK, so that one can look forward to the next opportunity to talk again intensively about Gender Studies in Cologne. Despite some fundamental differences, the lectures showed that gender as a complex of questions affects all disciplines. GeStiK will hopefully continue to offer forums where projects on gender from various fields can be presented and where more in-depth discussions can take place on topics that unfortunately could not be discussed in detail at the founding conference - such as post-categorial anti-discrimination or intersectionality.

Japhet Johnstone