Joan Wallach Scott, “Gender: a Useful Category of Historical Analysis.”

In this essay, Joan Scott traces the uses of “gender” as a category of historical analysis, offering both critiques and positive suggestions about the possibilities for further study. She describes two categories of approaches to gender by historians: the first being descriptive, the second causal. Where descriptive approaches tend to focus on relations between the sexes and largely those outside of the world of politics, causal approaches focus on the creation of gender identifies. These fall into three general trends, each with its own weaknesses:

Drawing from all of these approaches and attempting to learn from their weaknesses, Scott poses the following definition of gender as a means of framing gender as a category for analysis. According to Scott, gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based upon perceived difference, which consists of:

as well as the primary way of signifying relationships of power (1067 ff). Where the first point, with its four part points to places for historical investigation, the second – the relationship between gender and power – marks the theorizing about gender (1069).

By focusing on gender in these terms, Scott proposes that historians can better explore both individual subjects and social organizations to understand how gender works and how changes in the construction of gender and power can and do occur (1067).