Dr Chris Weedon
- Hamburg, Germany
Dr Chris Weedon was born in West Germany in 1952.
She was educated at Southampton University and at the University of Birmingham, where she completed her PhD on 'Aspects of the Politics of Literature and Working-class Writing in Interwar Britain' in 1984. She taught in schools in England and Germany before working at Cardiff University of Wales where she is now a Professor, and teaches Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Women's Studies.Her books include Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (1987) and Feminism, Theory and the Politics of Difference (1999). She has also edited Die Frau in der DDR: An Anthology of Women's Writing from the German Democratic Republic (1988), and Postwar Women's Writing in German: Feminist Critical Approaches (1997).
Recent books include Identity and Culture: Narratives of Difference and Belonging (2004), and Gender, Feminism and Fiction in Germany 1840-1914 (2007). She was one of the editors of Gendering Border Studies in 2010, and continues to publish academic articles and book sections regularly on critical and cultural theory.
Professor Chris Weedon is the chair of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at the University of Cardiff and for the past two decades her work has engaged with cultural theories of feminism, class and race.
Her teaching and writing is underpinned by an understanding of the importance of our society not just tolerating, but also being inclusive of difference and diversity. Further to this, her seminal work, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (1987), is still, 20 years after its original publication, one of the most accessible yet complex works in this field.
Her first main publication, Rewriting English: Cultural Politics of Gender and Class (1985), was written along with Janet Batsleer, Tony Davies and Rebecca O’Rourke. In his paper ‘Where is Cultural Studies Today?’, Glenn Jordan argues that this book is one of the finest examples of the 1980s that rethinks ‘institutionalised English studies from a cultural studies perspective’ (September 2007).
This was followed by Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, which argues in favour of feminism embracing theories associated with poststructuralism in order to move away from the limitations of binary thinking. She deconstructs the notion that women and men are tied to their biology; her work, both here and elsewhere, depends on the reasoning that our genders are cultural constructs.
As she goes on to point out, it is impossible to generalise about definitions of postructuralism, but reminds the readers that it is associated with the theories of philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva. She argues convincingly that poststructuralism enables feminism to have, ‘a way of conceptualizing the relationship between language, social institutions and individual consciousness which focuses on how power is exercised and on the possibilities of change.’ Poststructuralism, then, gives feminism frameworks and a vocabulary to understand relationships of power and also offers the means for undermining the humanist trait of essentialising identity.
Die Frau in der DDR: An Anthology of Women’s Writing from the German Democratic Republic (1988), which Weedon edited, and Culture, Race and Identity: Australian Aboriginal Writing (1990), were followed by Cultural Politics: Class, Gender, Race and the Postmodern World (1995). The latter was co-written with Glenn Jordan and investigates the politics that maintain social divisions. They argue that these divides are not innocuous and are often made along the lines of inequality: ‘Very often, social divisions are reflections of social inequality, that is, differences of wealth, power and/or status. Although many sociologists and all economic determinists tend to forget this point, relations of inequality are closely tied to questions of culture.’ The interrelation between culture and politics is made apparent in the title and is central to this examination of how power works in class, gender and race relations. The competition between cultures for dominance is also elemental to this debate. The authors consider the ways less privileged voices have been marginalized (such as the Australian Aboriginals) and the case for cultural democracy is pondered. As well as maintaining an academic career, Weedon has also been involved with the Butetown History and Arts Centre in Cardiff since 1990. This aims to preserve local history and is also concerned with including the inner-city residents of the city in maintaining its heritage. In the preface to Identity and Culture: Narratives of Difference and Belonging (2004), she acknowledges how working with this centre, and a personal relationship, have ‘both shaped my understandings of difference, identity and the need to belong.’
Kath Woodward’s review of Identity and Culture highlights how it examines racism’s influence on identity: ‘There is welcome recognition of the persistence of racism and valuable emphasis on the multiple ways in which racialization and ethnicization involve racist practices and complex cultural constructions. These are well illustrated in situations as varied as the media reception of the Parekh Report on Multi-cultural Britain and protests against the Miss World pageant in Nigeria in 2002’ (The Sociological Review, February 2005). Weedon’s allegiance to the understanding of the ways in which differences are placed in hierarchies in Western society has become the methodology that has informed her academic career (and is also used here). With the use of theorists such as Louis Althusser, Foucault and Edward Said, she focuses in detail on the legacy of colonialism and racism. She also argues that change may only be brought about with an admittance of guilt: ‘The selective amnesia about racism in Britain in the post-war period, and the histories of slavery and colonization that preceded it, desperately need remedying in the interests of a contemporary Britain in which diversity is welcomed not merely tolerated.’
In Gender, Feminism and Fiction in Germany 1840-1914 (2007), she continues to write about the construction of gender. She also returns to her abiding interest in German culture, which is undoubtedly associated with West Germany being her place of birth. She has also previously edited Postwar Women’s Writing in German: Feminist Critical Approaches (1997) and the aforementioned Die Frau in der DDR. Gender, Feminism and Fiction in Germany 1840-1914 looks at various texts such as women’s fiction and conduct books and examines the roles these have played in maintaining and undermining gender roles.
Postwar Women’s Writing in German includes essays about Swiss, Austrian and East and West German women writers and, in the Afterword, she disputes the disparaging term, Frauenliteratur. She also demonstrates the necessity of using feminist theory when explaining how patriarchy works: ‘In societies in which gender is a fundamental category marking difference in hierarchical ways, ‘women’s writing’ as a category is likely to signify a difference of view given by women’s different placing within the patriarchal social and cultural orders. To claim that women and men are the same is to deny the structural relations that produce difference. What is important is not to essentialise women’s difference.’
Conclusively, Weedon’s commitment to equality, in terms of gender, race and class, has always been made visible in her writing. The sophistication and complexity of her arguments, which negotiate poststructuralist, feminist and Marxist debates, are put across with enviable clarity. When reading her work, it becomes increasingly evident that her style is informed by her politics, as her accessibility demonstrates that it is possible, after all, to challenge elitism in a non-elitist way.
Dr Julie Ellam, 2007