Women in Science, Women in the ‘Periphery’

Coordinated by Elena Serrano & Faidra Papanelopoulou

Members: Luis Miguel Carolino, Polyxeni Giannakopoulou, Heini Hakosalo, Maria M. Lopes, Annette Lykknes, Rosa M Medina Doménech, Faidra Papanelopoulou, Elena Serrano, Ana Simoes, Brigitte Van Tiggelen


By the late 1990s, both women and gender studies have grown impressively. So far we have a vast number of case-studies which draw our attention to women’s participation in science and highlight, among others, the intricate relations between the private and the public, the existence of alternative spaces of scientific practice, and patterns of collaboration between scientific couples or institutions. Dorinda Outram, Barbara Gates, Ann Shteir, Margaret Jacob, Paola Findlen, Patricia Fara or Jim Secord among many others, have highlighted the role of women in shaping scientific culture and contemporary technology. Through patronage, pedagogy, correspondence, lecturing and polite conversation; through writing, translating, collecting, drawing, modelling; through using and consuming new technologies women have always had a role in the legitimization, domestication and circulation of knowledge, scientific practices and technological artefacts. These biographical and social approaches enriched with studies on the construction of the ‘female nature’ and a gendered language, on the mechanisms of exclusion from science and the strategies women developed to overcome them, or the suggestion of alternative feminist epistemologies have all led to fruitful discussions concerning the importance of reformulating the questions we ask by taking into consideration both the historical and analytical categories of women and gender. Moreover, focusing on women teaches us more and more how to deal with other ‘invisible’ figures in the history of science and technology. As much as women, many men endorsed ancillary tasks and roles in the scientific enterprise and we know almost nothing about them (assistants, technicians, factotums, secretaries whatever they were in their times). In this case, gender often acts as a ‘radioactive marker’ that allows us to follow sometimes more easily the paths of those left in the shadows by a classical historiography centered on the main actors and their close environment.
The aim of this research group is to add to this literature a new perspective. One of the main tenets of STEP is that the so-called ‘periphery’ can also be seen as a historiographical standpoint that ‘might offer a clearer view over the intricate ideological constructs which accompany the establishment of science and technology’. Can the analysis of the participation of women in science from the ‘periphery’ (either within Europe or beyond Europe) enrich our historiographical standpoint by placing focus also on the gendered power relations in the making of modern science? At a first stage we would like to provide case-studies which analyze the participation of women in science from the periphery and reflect on the historiographical and methodological issues raised. In respect to the ‘periphery question’, we would like to explore how these women situated themselves in such context, whether they used the concepts of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’ in their lives and work, and whether these concepts related to their gender. Apart from accounting for the constitution of the scientific population in the periphery, we would also like to account for the engendering process of science. Can we observe any particularities to such processes when standing on the periphery?

Indicative Bibliography:

Abir-Am, Pnina G. and Outram, Dorinda. Uneasy careers and intimate lives: women in science 1789-1979. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1989.

Alcoff Linda and Potter Elizabeth (ed.) Feminist epistemologies. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Fara, Patricia. Pandora's breeches: women, science and power in the Enlightenment. London: Pimlico, 2004.

Gates, Barbara T. and Shteir, Ann B. Natural eloquence: women reinscribe science. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.

Jacob, Margaret; Sturkenboom, Dorothee. “A women’s Scientific Society in the West. The Late Eighteenth-Century Assimilation of Science”. Isis, 2003, 94:217-252.

Jordanova, L. (1989): Sexual Visions. Images of Gender in Science and Medicine from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century. Nueva York-Londres, Harvester-Wheatsheaf.

Lerman, N..E. et al (eds). ‘Gender analysis and the history of technology, special issue: Technology and Culture, 1997, 38Q 1-231.

Nelson, L. and Wylie, A., Hypatia, special issue: Feminist Science Studies, 2004, 19/1.

Schiebinger, Londa. Has feminism changed science? Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press., 1999.

Shteir, Ann and Lightman, Bernard (eds), Figuring It Out: Science, Gender, and Visual Culture. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press, 2006.

Watts, Ruth. Women in Science. A social and cultural history. London, New-York, Routledge, 2007.


Organisation of one or several sessions on “Women and the circulation of Knowledge’ in the next STEP meeting (June 2012). We will address topics such as: women and peripheral universities, women and the communication of science in peripheral countries, women’s scientific associations, women and domestic science, women as science and technology consumers.
We are particularly interested in exploring the strategies women use for legitimizing themselves, their publication strategies, their alliances (political or religious support for example), their use of networks (i.e. family, religious, political), the ways in which they negotiate with other collectives and scientific institution, their appropriation of scientific discourse or the shaping of their own etc.
The group is also intended to closely collaborate with other international groups such as the Commission of Women in Science of the IUHPS.