EgFem – Egyptology, feminist theory and alternative worlds: Body/sex/gender in New Kingdom Egypt, and their affective environments
The novelty of this project is the explicit dialogue between Egyptology and feminist theory, between the body/sex/gender divide (present theory) and the empirical material (past practice). Its contribution is important, not only because new discoveries force us to re-evaluate what we thought we knew about the past, but also because the records and topics addressed in this project have received limited attention in the past, and never been put together in a study like this.
Egyptologists have traditionally privileged narrow cultural-historical approaches, focusing on textual, visual or archaeological details instead of taking part in broader theoretical discussions. It has been observed that Egyptology occupies 'a curious position within the academic landscape, somewhere between archaeology and history' (Quirke 2015, 4), and that 'the development of theory continues to be a relatively niche approach within Egyptology' (Olabarria 2018, 89). But this is slowly changing, as more critically oriented interdisciplinary research gains momentum: Increased attention is given to the discipline itself, leading scholars and institutions to become more self-aware and reflective on their role as knowledge producers, both politically and ethically. Interpretations and biases are being questioned to a larger degree than ever before. Theoretical input from other disciplines, together with methodological awareness and a rich archaeological record, appear as the driving force (Nyord and Howley 2018, vi ; Nyord 2018, 73).
About the project
EgFem examines the interdisciplinary potential between Egyptology and feminist theory: The primary objective is to explore the potential of the dialogue between present theories of sex/gender and past practice as manifested by the ancient Egyptian material. And develop what is called the body/sex/gender divide as a theoretical and methodological framework for cultural-historical research. The secondary objective is to achieve a better understanding of the manifold expressions (difference and sameness) of body/sex/gender in New Kingdom Egypt.
The project will be carried out through five articles: The first develops the theoretical and methodological framework of the project. The second address the larger corpus of empirical material. And three case studies are concerned specifically with: the gender of labour in textile production; the (sexed) body in medical texts; and the possibility of alternative worlds beyond traditional male/female and human/non-human binaries, in art and literature.
The research design is intended to highlight the heterogeneity and messiness of the records, and the processes by which differences are developed and potentially contested, both within the past and in relation to the present. EgFem addresses the complex web of reciprocal, many scaled relations involved, exploring assemblages of affective environments, change and variation. Instead of being concerned with social constructions (culture) as opposed to a biological baseline (nature), what came first, and what is the more appropriate of the concepts body, sex and gender, the concern of EgFem is to question what we think we know, how we know it, what makes it possible, and what interests it may serve. It includes both critique and positive formulations of alternatives: alternatives that in the end will further our knowledge about the past, by forcing us to reflect critically on current assumptions and categorizations.
Why ancient Egypt?
A dominant force for three thousand years, ancient Egypt is one of the most successful and longest-lasting human civilization yet (Kemp 2015). It i is valuable because of the wealth of available remains, which offers small glimpses into another world, alternative ways of life and more ancient traditions than the European, but also because of its historically construed position outside / at the intersection with what we have come to know as western civilization. The study of ancient Egypt can contribute to debates about change, variation, collapse and continuity, and allows us to question the primitive / pre- / post- / modern distinction, indeed the belief that development is always linear and one-directional. It has the potential to impact cultural-historical research beyond Egyptology and serve as basis for further theory production.
The project is hosted by the Centre for Gender Research (University of Oslo). It includes two years as visiting scholar at the Art History Department (Emory University) and a three months secondment at the Centre for Textile Research (University of Copenhagen); and collaboration with, among others:
- Prof. Jorunn Økland, Centre for Gender Research, University of Oslo
- Ass. Prof. Rune Nyord, Art History Department, Emory University
- Ass. Prof. Eva B. Andersson Strand, Centre for Textile Research, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen