Why Stories Matter

The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory

Why Stories Matter

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: Published: January 2011

Author: Clare Hemmings

Cultural Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Why Stories Matter is a powerful critique of the stories that feminists tell about the past four decades of Western feminist theory. Clare Hemmings examines the narratives that make up feminist accounts of recent feminist history, highlights the ethical and political dilemmas raised by these narratives, and offers innovative strategies for transforming them. Drawing on her in-depth analysis of feminist journals, such as Signs, Feminist Review, and Feminist Theory, Hemmings argues that feminists portray the development of Western feminism through narratives of progress, loss, and return. Whether celebrating the move beyond unity or identity, lamenting the demise of a feminist political agenda, or proposing a return to a feminist vision from the past, by advancing these narratives feminists construct a mobile “political grammar” too easily adapted for postfeminist agendas. Hemmings insists that it is not enough for feminist theorists to lament what is most often perceived as the co-optation of feminism in global arenas. They must pay attention to the amenability of their own stories, narrative constructs, and grammatical forms to broader discursive uses of gender and feminism if history is not simply to repeat itself. Since citation practices and the mobilization of affect are central to how the narratives of progress, loss, and return persuade readers to suspend disbelief, they are also potential keys to telling the story of feminism’s past, present, and future differently.


Why Stories Matter . . . should be widely read among scholars of Western feminist theory because of the careful readings and cautionary tales it offers.” — Deborah M. Withers, European Journal of Women's Studies

“Clare Hemming’s Why Stories Matter delivers a valuable perspective on how historical feminist writing is received and functions today. For anyone interested in feminist theory, historiography, and the writing of feminism into history, this book should be compulsory reading.” — Allison Kinsey Robb, Graduate Journal of the Social Sciences

“Clare Hemmings’s astute analysis of ‘the stories that feminists tell about the past four decades of feminist theory’ (dust-jacket) is a timely wake-up call for all those of us teaching and researching in the field of feminist theory and women’s / gender studies.” — Lynne Pearce, New Formations

“Encouraging a retelling of the history of feminist theory that accounts for the complexities of narratives that structure political action is an important project. . . . Why Stories Matter does provide important insights into the limitations of Western feminist theory. . . .” — Jan Clarke, Social Movement Studies

“Hemmings offers a helpful summary of the different, complimentary, and sometimes contradictory ways feminists discuss their collective history, and aims to situate that summary as a gateway toward more politically viable alternatives. . . . Theoretically-minded readers will appreciate its engagement with historiography and epistemology and its refusal to replace one flawed narrative approach with another.” — On Campus with Women

“Hemmings’ exceptional book is expertly argued and conducts a much-needed inquiry into the politics of feminism’s constructions of its own
past, present and future.” — Jemima Repo, International Journal of Feminist Politics

Why Stories Matter animates the field of feminist intellectual historiography. Hemmings provides a comprehensive and incisive approach that describes, critiques, and transforms the stories feminist scholars tell about their past. . . . Hemmings reminds us why our stories about the past of feminist scholarship have political and ethical prescience and, thus, why they matter.” — Kelly Coogan-Gehr, Signs

“Clare Hemmings’s Why Stories Matter is poised to prompt a major rethinking of feminist theory, and more importantly, of how we construct our histories of this field – and what this says about feminists’ intellectual investments and our futures. This is an engagingly written and highly original close reading of theoretical debates in the pages of top feminist journals. . . . The result is a stimulating book, one that has the power to interrogate the reader’s theoretical commitments, the stories she tells herself about her field, and the stories she tells others, including, if she teaches, her students.” — Ilya Parkins, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“Hemmings’ interventions do more than constitute a meta-critique of Western feminism; they historicize and provincialize Western feminism with implications on how gender, sexuality and feminism are understood and taken up in a variety of trans/national contexts. This book is compulsory reading for anyone interested in feminism today; not just in Anglo-American feminism or in feminist theory, however, demarcated.” — Srila Roy, Feminist Review

“Hemmings’s book is an extraordinary encapsulation of major trends in recent feminist thought and is sweeping without being glossing, specific without getting mired in detail. Her contributions include not only exposing metanarratives that drive political investments without our noticing but also suggesting that feminists can gain more control over how feminism circulates by attending to this politicoemotional grammar.” — Naomi Greyser, Feminist Studies

“This excellent, original book identifies and critiques the stories feminists tell about feminism. . . . Hemmings’s practice of detaching scholars’ names from their writing is inspired, because it moves away from praising or vilifying individual authors in favor of looking at prevailing narrative patterns. . . . Highly recommended. All readers.” — R. R. Warhol, Choice

“[A] brilliant and convincing analysis. . . .”  — Nadine Muller and Claire O’Callaghan, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“... Hemmings is convincing in her mapping and unpacking of the recurring narratives, and argues persuasively that feminist scholars must take their roles as storytellers seriously... Hemming’s passionate and erudite book should be embraced....” — Fiona Philip, Parallax

“Hemmings offers a devastating critical armory to feminist historiography, bringing these narrative techniques and ‘political grammar’ under scrutiny to enable a much more thorough understanding of how and why the dominant narratives work. . . . Why Stories Matter thus offers ways of analyzing feminist stories, and also ways of interrupting and telling feminist stories differently.”  — Victoria Browne, Subjectivity

“A pièce de rèsistance in contemporary feminist/women’s/gender studies. . . . theory is at, these days, and we do not yet know where it will lead us. In addition, after reading Hemmings’ book, one will think twice, as a writer and a peer reviewer. The book has the potential truly to in?uence how we write and evaluate as feminist scholars. We suggest it as reading material for feminist colloquia and (post-)graduate training in both Europe and the US.”  — Beatriz Revelles-Benavente and Iris van der Tuin, Nora

"Hemmings’s feminist narratives ... point to the potential of a feminist political grammar genuinely capable of promoting the kind of global social change so urgently needed." — Karen J. Leader, Storytelling, Self, Society

Why Stories Matter is an exciting and impressive book, one that cannot fail to have an impact on the feminist academic community. Clare Hemmings contributes to radical new understandings of feminist theory by brilliantly synthesizing the debates that currently animate the field, and then intervening in ways that force the rethinking of accepted wisdom.” — Rosi Braidotti, Director, Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University

“I read Why Stories Matter with pleasure; it manages to specify and scrutinize much of what I too find dissatisfying, exasperating, and even enraging about contemporary conversations in academic feminism.” — Eva Cherniavsky, author of Incorporations: Race, Nation, and the Body Politics of Capital

“Whatever happens to Anglo-European feminist theory and politics in the future, the way we look at its past will never be the same again. This extraordinary book identifies the revolutionary elements of a truly global feminist sensibility so urgently required in the present: accountability, reflexivity, and an ability to grasp the intersections between different forms of inequality and power.” — Vron Ware, co-author of Out of Whiteness: Color, Politics, and Culture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Clare Hemmings is Reader in Feminist Theory and Director of the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics. She is the author of Bisexual Spaces: A Geography of Gender and Sexuality, co-author of Practising Interdisciplinarity in Gender Studies, and a member of the Feminist Review Collective.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part One

1. Progress 31

2. Loss 59

3. Return 95

Part Two

4. Amenability 131

5. Citation Tactics 161

6. Affective Subjects 191

Notes 227

Bibliography 245

Index 265
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2012 Feminist and Women's Studies Association Best Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4916-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4893-1
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