2020 C19: Reforming Women
Please consider submitting an abstract for this proposed panel for the 2020 C19 conference in Coral Gables.
Women were powerful activists in a range of nineteenth-century reform movements, agitating for abolition, temperance, prison reform, education reform, and women’s suffrage, to name a few. This panel asks how women’s reform work participated in the practices of dissent and consent, exploring the politics and poetics of nineteenth-century women’s activism. The very term “reform” bridges material change and continuity in the act of making: the work of re-forming involves repetition, revision, and return, which present substantial political possibilities as well as distinct limits.
It is perhaps precisely in women reformers’ attunement to the limits of their political engagements, and the limits and conditions of the political as such, that we find the emergence of a distinctly feminist form of political activism. In one sense, women activists were often charged with negotiating the boundaries between the so-called private and public spheres. In another, their rhetorical styles and activist approaches were shaped by their training as daughters, wives, and mothers in the home, what Karlyn Kohrs Campbell refers to as “craft-learning.” If “craft related skills,” as Campbell argues, “cannot be expressed in universal laws,” but must be applied “contingently, depending upon conditions and materials,” how did women craft social reform? And how does such an attunement to the contingent and practical necessities of social reproduction inflect and inform not only nineteenth-century women’s political agendas and tactics but nineteenth-century conceptions of the political as such?
We invite papers that explore the ways in which women activists made use of the available resources and materials of their socio-historical moments to advance social reform, broadly construed. What were the methodologies of women reformers, and how did their practices — literary, rhetorical, performative, material — negotiate the shifting political landscape of the long nineteenth century? How did their interventions re-shape, revise, and re-form the limits of the political? In what ways did the work of reform reproduce social hegemony, even as activist women pressed for new configurations of the political? To what extent can the poetics of women’s reform help us to re-think limits as a productive source of political possibility?