Professor Kathy Ferguson


Click here to view my Emma Goldman book and more about anarchist women!


I grew up and went to school in what novelist William Gass calls "the heart of the heart of the country". My family lived on a farm in central Indiana. I went to Purdue University for my undergraduate degree, first studying to be a veterinarian but soon becoming fascinated, mostly because of the inspired teaching of a single brilliant professor, with political theory. I was there from 1968-1972, exciting times to be a student, even in the conservative Midwest. I completed my Ph.D. in political science, with supporting programs in philosophy and history, at the University of Minnesota, where, with the support of my very open-minded advisor, I wrote the first dissertation on women or feminism in that department.

After graduate school I taught for nine years at Siena College in Albany, New York, then came to the University of Hawai‘i as a visiting professor in 1985. I found Hawai‘i to be a great place to do political theory, so I stayed. In spring of 1999 I held a Fulbright appointment at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel, and have also taught at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, Austria, and the University of Gotenberg in Gotenberg, Sweden. I hold a joint appointment in Political Science and Women's Studies and am currently the Undergraduate Advisor for the Women's Studies Program. I have also become involved in the Hawai‘i branch of the International Dyslexia Association, in which I serve as a board member and as a tutor for dyslexic children and adults.

Research Interests

My central research interests are contemporary political theory, feminist theory, and militarism. I am currently writing a book on Emma Goldman as a political thinker, and another book on homeschooling. My work on Goldman reflects a longstanding fascination with her anarchist and feminist ideas and actions at the turn of the last century, while my more recent interest in homeschooling results from my year of homeschooling my sons while traveling in the U.S. mainland and Israel. I continue to work on questions of gender and militarism, this time within the context of globalization, with co-author Phyllis Turnbull. When I finish these two projects I've been invited to write a new introduction and conclusion to my earlier book The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy, to coincide with the second edition of that book in 2004.

Courses Taught

History of Political Philosophy: Political Theory in Star Trek (POLS 335)

This course examines the grand narratives of western political thought through the vehicle of Star Trek. We look at the "important dead white guys" who have come to be included as central thinkers in this intellectual tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche. This is a huge range of people and ideas, so we only get a glimpse of each; further, each of these thinkers is complex and can be interpreted in many different ways. Our goal is to put together a coherent frame for an initial encounter with the history of western political thought. We briefly situate each philosopher in his place and time, look at the public issues he confronted, and articulate (our version of) the political analysis for which he has become famous. We try to grasp the center of his vision, the concerns which most energized his thinking, the assumptions from which he worked, the values he advanced. We ask about the implications of his tought for our world today.

We are also concerned with how these political arguments get made, with the rhetorical strategies that shape and limit arguments. Political theorists use language not only to describe, but also to make their world. Their metaphors and images call up certain kinds of meanings and displace others. We look not just for what is said, but for what is not said, for silence as well as for speech.

We also use these thinkers to examine the whole idea of "the tradition" or "the cannon" of western political thought. How come these guys get to be the important ones? Where are the women? The non–Europeans? The people from marginal classes and colors? How does this political narrative come to be, and how is it contested?

Star Trek serves as a textual site for examinig, evaluating and critiquing the ideas of these political theorists. We look at some episodes that exemplify the ideas of a political thinker, and at other episodes that can be critiqued from the point of view of a particular political philosopher. Star Trek will serve as a narrative site where political stories are told, stories that often reflect and utilize the ideas of political philosophers. Political theory, ultimately, is everywhere; it is the way we put things together. It is embedded in the stories we tell, and in the stories that tell us.

Feminist Theory (POLS 339/WS 439)

This course explores contemporary debates in feminist theory. We look at different concepts of subjectivity and approaches to the category "woman": how do we generalize about women without projecting one set of experiences onto all of us? We look at modes of representation in language and in politics, asking both "who gets to speak?" and "what can be said?" We explore relations between gender, race and class: gender, and colonialism; the gendering of bodies, sexualities and "nature"; feminist and anti-feminist political activism; the politics of representation.

Social Studies for Teachers (team taught with Geography, Anthropology, Economics, and History; SOCS 496)

High school and middle school social studies teachers face a unique challenge: they must integrate knowledge from several distinct disciplines and apply this knowledge to teach a broad range of classes. Specifically, in Hawai‘i, teachers must synthesize knowledge and methods from history, political science, anthropology, economics, and geography in order to teach courses on Hawai‘i, the United States, and the world. This daunting task requires something other than a "bunch o' facts" to be memorized (and forgotten); it requires reflecting on and connecting information to stimulate curiosity and create coherent understandings.

This course provides the intellectual scaffolding to guide and support the important work of social studies teachers. We ask, with regard to each of the five fields of study, the following questions: How does a geographer/historian/etc. look at the world? What are the major tenets of anthropology/political science/etc. and how can they be included in the cirriculum? What instructional resources are most helpful in teaching economics/history/etc.? We are creating a "big picture" that students can internalize and utilize as a frame from which to hang their particular knowledge of issues and events. We go beyond the "10,000 facts" approach to teaching social studies, and focus on creating an integrated framework from which to make sense of those facts and to conduct further inquiry. Within the limits imposed by a brief and intense summer schedule, we aim to engage our students, who are also teachers, as thinkers. Too often teaching is reduced to classroom management; we want instead to develop and value the capacity to think critically, creatively, and reflectively as the heart of good teaching.

It is, of course, impossible to cover all the relevant content knowledge for these three areas in one class. Instead, we have selected specific topics and events upon which to focus, to illustrate how our different disciplines contribute unique perspectives to analyzing a topic of shared interest. Our goal is to draw the students into the excitement of thinking about these topics in an interdisciplinary fashion, to provide them with a starting point from which they can further develop their inquiry as they, in turn, become teachers.

This course provides a content foundation to support the D.O.E. Social Studies Content Standards. It also meets the NCATE Performance Standards requirements for a social studies education program.

Feminist Research Methods (WS 615)

What is the relationship between feminist understandings of the world and the methods used to produce/express those understandings? This course explores the complex relations between feminist theory, feminist politics, and methods of research and teaching that produce and reflect our theories and our politics. Our explorations are framed by an abiding interest in how one does one's research and (to a lesser degree) one's teaching. The question that will compel our readings and our conversation is, with respect to each of the books and essays, "how did she/he do this research" followed closely by "how am I doing my research?"

Feminism's encounter with the world of method is uncertain and robust. One view suggests that "feminist" is another adjective that one can attach to the noun "method", much like "qualitative" and "quantitative". This implies that there is a kind of method that is rightly called feminist, perhaps a "qualitative" method rather than one that employs mathematics. A different perspective has the feminist dimension of inquiry emerge in the stance one takes towards methods, the way one encounters them and the uses to which they are put. From the latter point of view, the question "which method is feminist" is a bit like asking "which method is red"; it is a category mistake, taking methods for containers that hold knowledge stuff rather than ways of intersecting the material and discursive world with questions.

Some methods texts have accommodated the last quarter century's intensification of interest in feminism by adding a chapter on "feminist methods" to the standard quantitative and qualitative methods used in the social sciences and humanities. Others have taken the spectrum of quantitative and qualitative methods and asked "which one is most feminist?" Neither of these approaches seems particularly productive to me. The first makes feminism an add-on, and consequently a stranger to the larger body of thinking about how to know the world, while the second asks for an impossible political purity. Instead, this class summons six concerns that (selectively) inhabit feminist thinking, explore their implications and contradictions, and ask how they are/might be pursued through a variety of practices of inquiry. While staying open to the concerns of those seeking a particualr method that earns the descriptor "feminist", our inquiry takes feminist energies to produce, not a particular method, but a stance toward method, a set of expectations, that we bring to a variety of practices of inquiry.

Feminist Theory (POLS 615C/WS 615)

This course explores hermeneutic and genealogical approaches to the category "woman": how do we generalize about women without projecting one set of experiences onto all of us, and without recreating the categories that enable patriarchy in the first place? What do we mean when we articulate or critique a "woman's voice"? We consider debates between those who want to specify such a voice, and those who resist generalizing about "women" and "men". We ask questions about modes of representation in language and in politics, asking both "who gets to speak?" and "what can be said?"

We take the theoretical tools and analytical energies provided by hermeneutic and genealogical feminisms to explore relations between relations between gender, race, and class; gender and colonialism; the gendering of bodies, sexualities and "nature"; local, national and global feminisms; and the politics of representation. An overreaching question of the class concerns the possibilites of constructive political action in a time when the familiar metanarratives sustaining such actions have come under fire.


Curriculum Vitae (PDF)