The Emergence of Gender Scholarship in South Africa – reflections on Southern Theory
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The late 20th century saw a steep rise in published works on gender in South Africa. This article analyses the production of gender research against a backdrop of current interest in southern theory, theory that is produced to analyse and challenge existing global knowledge inequalities. As a domain of research, South African gender writings draw both on global feminist impulses as well as national and local ones. We discuss what this means for understanding the particularity of South Africa’s gender scholarship which we trace back to the writings of Olive Schreiner at the beginning of the 20th century. In this paper we quantitatively identify the trajectory of gender research in South Africa and consider the genealogy of South African feminist writing. We show how the focus of gender research evolved noting that it sometimes was divided on grounds of race, but often was united by opposition to patriarchy which took forms of activist scholarship. We focus on a number of themes to show how feminist scholarship developed out of engagements with questions of inequality, race, class and gender. While gender research featured a strong, almost obsessive, engagement with local, South African issues which serve to give this body of work its cohesion, it also manifested divisions that reflected the very inequalities being researched.