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Political Institutions “Doing Gender”: The Limits of the Knowledge Approach

Author: HELGA OSTENDORF
Published in GPS, Vol. 8 No. 1

“Knowledge” seems to be a central category of current policy analysis. But this mainstream discussion not only tends to overlook the feminist discus-sion about a “gender knowledge approach”, but it often underestimates the limits of focussing solely on the knowledge of policy makers. In this paper I intend to make the boundaries of the knowledge approach visible by enlarg-ing the originally sociological gender knowledge approach with findings on the political construction of knowledge and the role state-run organisations play as institutions—as providers for orientation and socialisation. My the-sis is that the “doing gender” of political institutions relies on how political institutions are modelled and by whom and how they are controlled: if they are independent of or dependent on civil society and its organisations.
I base this article on a study I carried out on state-run vocational guid-ance agencies in Germany and the ways in which these agencies reproduced gender relations. On the basis of the “frame theory” of institutionalism and the importance symbols have in political life, I propose to work with the category of “role models”, the guiding principles of gender relations, instead of searching for more different “forms” of gender knowledge. When pre-dicting political change, we rather should ask, “Who produces gender knowledge by what means” and furthermore, “What kind of gender know–ledge is inscribed in procedure, norms and cognition”.

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