Overview

Overview

WGSE program focuses on women’s, feminist, and LGBT issues across Western and East Central Europe. Participants study feminist and queer theory, cross-cultural feminist methodology, and European situated feminisms and conduct independent research projects while traveling to the Netherlands (Utrecht and Amsterdam), Germany (Berlin), Poland (Krakow), and the Czech Republic (Prague and Olomouc).

Program Highlights

  • Participating in the NOISE summer school organized by the Research School in Gender Studies (Utrecht) and networking with European WGS students and faculty;
  • Traveling to both Western and East Central European sites and exploring WGS issues across Europe comparatively;
  • Moving beyond Western frameworks and learning about gender regimes and history of women’s emancipation in the former Eastern bloc;
  • Designing and carrying out independent research on an individualized topic within the WGS field;
  • Staying with local hosts at two sites and gaining insight into local cultures.

One of the principal goals of the program is a comparative exploration of Europe in its heterogeneity. The program’s focus is on bringing the margins to the center. Participants explore the diversity that is Europe from the perspectives of women and sexual and ethnic/racial minorities. Students learn about the historical and current day experiences of the citizens of Jewish, Afro-German, and Turkish backgrounds in Germany, about the struggles of the Roma women in the Czech Republic and Poland, about the ways in which Islamophobia affects Muslim populations across Europe. These topics are addressed both through scholarly inquiry and situated empirical experience throughout the semester, framed through our discussions of post-colonial, feminist, and queer theories.

Moving beyond the Western frameworks and attending to the specificity of the program’s East-Central European sites, the WGSE program is uniquely situated to complicate the established story of European feminist and LGBT movements, suggesting broader questions about alternative routes towards women’s and LGBT rights. What does it mean to realize that some goals of the feminist second wave, such as reproductive rights, accessibility to higher education for women, or equal employment opportunities, were argued and achieved in much of the former Eastern bloc as part and parcel of the socialist doctrine? How does the story of LGBT activism unfold in a social context where homosexuality and trans*sexuality have been discussed in a medical/sexuological framework until very recently? These topics are framed through our discussions of post-colonial, feminist and queer theories, and they are explored through students’ self-designed field research.

Program Structure

Following an orientation to the program, students participate in NOISE, a week-long school in WGS organized by Utrecht University’s Research School in Gender Studies. After NOISE, the WGSE participants spend the rest of the semester studying WGS in Utrecht/Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, and Prague. Students come face to face with leading theories in WGS and have the opportunity to test their knowledge while working on their independent research projects. Participants attend lectures and take seminars with Director Iveta Jusová, PhD, as well as with NGOs, artists, activists, and professors from affiliated European universities, including Utrecht University, Humboldt University, Charles University, and Jagiellonian University.

While in Poland, the group visits the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Weekend excursions take students to the Texel Island (Netherlands), the Bad Saarow thermal mineral spa (Germany), and to Olomouc and Javoricske caverns in Moravia (the Czech Republic).

Program Locations

The unique feature of the WGSE program is its traveling character and its comparative cross-cultural approach to the study of Europe as the program location and a socio-political notion to be explored as a gendered concept. Starting in Utrecht, Netherlands (four weeks) with an orientation to the academic aspects of the program and to the cross-cultural experience of studying in Europe, the program travels to Berlin, Germany (four weeks), Krakow, Poland (two weeks), and Prague, Czech Republic (three weeks), taking advantage of lectures and site visits, as well as comparative research opportunities, in each program location.

“Europe takes its name from a woman, Europa, the daughter of the legendary king of Tyre, who was beloved by Zeus, ‘the father of gods and men’ as Homer would have it. Europa was carried away by Zeus in the form of a bull to Crete, where she bore him three sons. This link to Greece, the country that is also credited with being ‘the cradle of European civilization,’ associates Europe with seductive femininity and a specific locale. One might argue that seductive femininity is what Europe has struggled with ever since, presenting a desirable and desired ideal but at the same time not having quite the masculine identity that, in the imaginary, characterizes the US, for instance, with its pioneer and ‘go West’ mentality . . .”

– Rosi Braidotti and Gabriele Griffin, Thinking Differently: A Reader in European Women’s Studies.

“It was Western Europe that invented Eastern Europe as its complementary other half in the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment. It was also the Enlightenment, with its intellectual centers in Western Europe, that cultivated and appropriated to itself the new notion of ‘civilization,’ and civilization discovered its complement, within the same continent, in shadowed lands of backwardness, even barbarism. Such was the invention of Eastern Europe--Europe but not Europe. . . . Eastern Europe defined Western Europe by contrast, as the Orient defined the Occident, but was also made to mediate between Europe and the Orient. One might describe the invention of Eastern Europe as an intellectual project of demi-Orientalization.”

– Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment.

The program’s combination of sites across Western and East-Central Europe is designed with the aim to challenge the established story, centered around Western Europe, of European gender regimes and of the women’s emancipation trajectory. The traveling and comparative character of the program encourages students to explore the ways in which identity categories such as gender and race are experienced and embodied differently in different locations, and the ways in which seemingly context-neutral feminist and queer theory is situated and how it travels.

Accommodations and Meals

Students stay in private apartments, student dorms and home-stays throughout Europe. Specific accommodations will be detailed in information packets sent prior to students’ departure for the program. Typically, accommodations include the following: home-stays in Berlin and Prague; student dorms in Olomouc; and private apartments in Utrecht and in Krakow.

When meals are not provided in the accommodations, students are given a stipend to purchase their meals. They can eat out or purchase groceries to cook (in most accommodations). Because students often select their own places to eat, we can accommodate most diets.