The condition of Gender Studies: transferable insights from a national survey?

The condition of Gender Studies: transferable insights from a national survey?
By Renate Haas

Detailed and comprehensive surveys of the state of Gender Studies are extremely rare. Therefore the broad analysis of the German Wissenschaftsrat (Science and Humanities Council), which forms the basis of its recent recommendations for the advancement of Gender Studies in the country, is all the more welcome [1]. The Wissenschaftsrat is an official science policy advisory body, and in the Empfehlungen this shows in various ways, e.g. in diplomatic restraint, concentration on realistic next steps and parallels to EU science policies. Gender is thus emphasized as a cross-cutting issue. The anchoring of Gender Studies in traditional disciplines and a certain degree of cooperation in networks, centres, etc. are endorsed. Expansion is, above all, advocated for fields in which gender has been ignored or sorely neglected, i.e. STEM. Such institutionalization harbours advantages and disadvantages. A crucial disadvantage has so far been insufficient visibility, and this has far-reaching consequences. The German National Library, for instance, still has no independent subject specialists for Gender Studies; its GND (Integrated Authority File), which is also used in other German-speaking countries and increasingly in archives and museums as well, lacks a category gender (p. 68). Similarly, Gender Studies is missing in the compartmentalization for the elections of review boards with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) (p. 35). And so on.

In the absence of specific official statistics, the Wissenschaftsrat had to undertake much basic research and frequently is not yet satisfied with the representativeness of its findings, even with regard to institutional structures. Take Gender Studies professorships and courses of study [2]. In the first case, the Wissenschaftsrat, for once, was able to start from data collected by a Gender Studies centre. For the whole of Germany it only found 173 GS professorships. In a total well beyond 50,000 this amounts to approximately 0.4 % and an increase of 0.1 % since the beginning of the century. 0.4 % for research and teaching that should cut across all disciplines! About three quarters of the professorships are held by traditional universities: 127, 18 of them with full and 109 with partial GS denomination. Unfortunately they are very unevenly distributed. Two of the sixteen German Länder (states) – Saarland and Saxony – have not a single one. The situation is best in North-Rhine Westphalia and Berlin – the result of sustained efforts of highly committed politicians and academics. These two Länder at any rate can boast of certain hubs with several GS professors in a single university: in North-Rhine Westphalia there are 5 universities with at least 5 GS professors and in Berlin 2 with at least 9.

The proportion of male professors is so small that the authors refrain from giving the numbers. Only 2 of these 127 professorships form the core of a GS discipline in its own right. The other 125 are housed by older disciplines, with the Social Sciences predominating.  About one half are theirs [3]. Sociology and Politics alone have 30, while all the Humanities together just have 39. The highest numbers in the Humanities are: German Studies 1 professorship with full denomination and 8 with partial denomination, History 1 and 5, and English Studies 4 with partial denomination [4].

In order to assess the permanently established teaching, the Wissenschaftsrat focuses on GS degree courses and GS certificates. Again the institutional results are meagre. Not even half of the Länder offer degree courses, and then almost exclusively at traditional universities: Bachelor courses at 6 universities and Master at 10. Certificates, i.e. additional qualifications for students of all subjects, exist in universities of applied sciences and various types of colleges, too; mostly in cooperation with traditional universities: altogether 35, ranging from 3 credit points to 30. Mirroring the professorships, the main responsibility for the degree courses lies with the Social Sciences, followed by Education and History. Due not least to the poor staff situation, they are designed for minimal intake, the rare maximum being 100 beginners, usually far fewer, despite great demand.  So the data on this sector, like those on the GS professorships, do not tell us much about what is going on in the many individual subjects of the academic spectrum in GS modules, parts of modules, lecture series, etc. Already by itself, English Studies has over 82,000 students.

All in all, the Wissenschaftsrat has gathered a great amount of valuable specific information and thus documents that, despite the poor and often precarious establishment, impressively much has been achieved. Its recommendations, elaborated on 16 pages, are down to earth and more or less lack EU verve. There, the expert group chaired by Londa Schiebinger has, for instance, advocated integrating the gender dimension into Horizon Europe work programs as a matter of principle and the norm [5]. A much more modest, but nevertheless important recommendation of the Wissenschaftsrat concerns intensifying cooperation, including internationalization. Astonishingly enough, many sectors of German Gender Studies have neglected international contacts. English Studies should have much to contribute here.


[1]  Empfehlungen zur Weiterentwicklung der Geschlechterforschung in Deutschland (Cologne, 2023), 154 pp.
[2]  Concerning GS professorships see particularly pp. 39-44, 127 f. and 20, n. 16; concerning teaching pp. 52-64 and 129-35.
[3] Further faculties whose numbers deserve mentioning are Education and Psychology with 13 and 12 professorships respectively. In the universities of applied sciences, the Social Sciences stand out even more (28 in a total of 37), the greatest emphasis being on Social Work with 13 professors.
[4] In Bielefeld, Cologne, Greifswald and Tübingen.
[5] Gendered Innovations 2: How Inclusive Analysis Contributes to Research and Innovation (Luxembourg, 2020), p. 37.

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