Professor Kathy Ferguson
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. 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.
My central research interests are contemporary political theory, feminist theory, and militarism. I recently completed a book on Emma Goldman as a political thinker, and in the process found many hundreds of other interesting anarchist women. Accordingly, I'm currently writing a book on anarchist women, primarily in the U.S. and Britain, from 1870-1945. My goal is to bring women more fully into anarchism, and at the same time to bring anarchism more fully into feminism, to make our radical histories more robust so that we can use them today. A second book on the constitutive role of letterpress printers in the anarchist movement, also an outcome of my Goldman research, is also underway. I continue to work on questions of gender and militarism in Hawai'i 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.
History of Political Philosophy: Political Theory in Star Trek (POLS 335)
Sample Syllabus (PDF)
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.
Anarchism (Pols 610)
Sample Syllabus (PDF)
This is a class about anarchism. We will read about anarchist ideas, projects and movements, and at the same time we will create our own class, together, in light of anarchist ways of organizing.
We are going to invent the class together: everyone will be asked to come to the first few classes with their thoughts on what questions they have regarding anarchism and what they want to study for the first half of the semester; we'll make a plan, agree on readings and make a schedule; at the half-way point we will regroup, look at what we have covered, think about the new questions that have arisen, and then make a plan for the remainder of the semester.
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.
Intersectionalities (WS 620)
This class explores the concept of intersectionality within feminist thinking. Briefly, intersectionality is a way of thinking about the interconnections of different flows of ideas, events, identities, and interactions. Originally directed at bringing gender-thinking and race-thinking together, the idea has expanded to include other salient vectors of power and identity, including class, sexuality, colonialism, disability, and others. The idea has also roamed beyond the practices of identity to include material and institutional dimensions of politics.
We will stage a variety of encounters in class between/among different ways of thinking about power, resistance, and liberation. The purpose of these interdisciplinary encounters is to creatively explore ideas by putting them into conversation with other ideas, allowing each to engage, enhance, and put pressure on one another.