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Martha A. Ackelsberg

William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government

email Send Email office 10 Prospect St #104 phone 413-585-3533
Office hours: Away 2014-2015

Martha A. AckelsbergI did my undergraduate work at Radcliffe College, receiving a degree in the interdisciplinary program in social studies in 1968, and continued on for graduate work in politics at Princeton University, from which I received a Ph.D. in 1976. I joined the Smith faculty in 1972, and was appointed Five College 40th Anniversary Professor in 2006, and William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in 2007. I have taught occasionally at Hampshire College and at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, and spent a semester (two terms) on a faculty exchange at the School of Social Sciences of the University of Sussex. I have spent leave and/or sabbatical time as a fellow at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College (1983-84), a faculty associate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University (1983-84), a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Women at Columbia University (1987-88), a visiting fellow at the Walt Whitman Center for the Culture and Politics of Democracy at Rutgers University (1992-1993), and as a member of the interdisciplinary Human Security Seminar cosponsored by CUNY Graduate Center and the National Center for Research on Women, 2003-04. During the 2010-11 academic year, I served as resident director of PRESHCO (Programa de Estudios Hispanicos-Cordoba), a consortial junior-year abroad program in which Smith participates. And, I am now serving as campus co-coordinator for PRESHCO.

My teaching, research and writing all center on the nature and structure of political communities, and, in particular, patterns of power and participation within them. My teaching has included courses and seminars in (U.S.) urban politics, political participation, the politics and wealth and poverty, and feminist and democratic theory. My research has focused on the anarchist movement in Spain, and, particularly, the place of the subordination and emancipation of women within the anarchist project; and on women's place in the political arena in the United States. I have been particularly concerned with the ways minority women are included in, or excluded from, the structures of communal life, the options that leaves to those excluded, and the ways in which those who have been on the margin respond to their marginality. I have come to believe that attention to these issues requires a reconceptualization of both political life and of the categories in which we analyze it.

The major focus of my work on Spain was the anarchist women's organization, Mujeres Libres. My book Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women, explores Mujeres Libres' roots in the broader anarchist movement, and examines the unique approach of the movement to issues of political vision and political mobilization. It provided me an opportunity both to explore anarchist perspectives on some critical problems of social change and political strategy, and to address contemporary issues about incorporating diversity into feminist and other political movements. That book has since been translated into Spanish, Italian and French. A new edition in English (that includes some new materials first written for the Spanish edition) was released by AK Press in 2005. Continuing interest in the history of that movement has enabled me to make a number of trips to Spain to speak with and to local anarchist and women's groups—most recently in June of 2012, for a series of celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the founding of Mujeres Libres.

My more recent work has been a further exploration of what I might call "applied feminist theory," and, specifically, constructions of gender and citizenship. I have been examining how feminist theorizing and feminist activism have affected the ways we think about some central political concepts e.g., public and private, autonomy and dependence, participation and democracy and exploring the implications of these changes for public policy and our understandings of what it is to be a citizen. I am also interested in questions of identity and identity politics: both the continuing power of such claims, and the dangers associated with them, for feminists and in the larger culture. A book of my essays exploring these and other issues, Resisting Citizenship: Feminist Essays on Politics, Community, and Democracy (Routledge), was published early in 2010.

Other writing has focused on the interconnections of politics, spirituality and community, particularly in a Jewish context. I have written a number of articles on politics and spirituality, on women in Judaism, on changing family structures in the Jewish community, and on the place of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals and the transgendered within the Jewish community. And, more recently, I have been a contributor to ongoing debates about "gay marriage."

During the 2000-01 academic year, I codirected a Kahn Institute interdisciplinary project on "Community Activism and the Academy." The project aimed to support the work of faculty members and students at Smith who are studying social movements and social activism, and to increase ties between Smith and local community activists. It sponsored an on-going seminar on social activism for faculty and student fellows, organized public symposia, and hosted social activists for short-term residencies at Smith. During spring break, the students and many faculty members visited the U.S.-Mexico border at Tijuana, to study activism there. In 2005-06, I participated again in a Kahn Institute seminar, this time on "City Lives and City Life." I am now involved with the new Smith Center for Community Collaboration, and with the new concentration in Community Engagement and Social Justice.

I live in Florence, where I enjoy gardening, cooking, singing and hiking. Whenever possible, I try, also, to maintain an active involvement in a variety of progressive, Jewish, and feminist organizations. I also serve as a member of the Northampton Housing Partnership, a city board with the responsibility to educate the community and advise the Mayor on issues of housing affordability. In that capacity, I served as a member of the Sustainable Northampton Steering Committee, the group overseeing Northampton 's long-term planning process, and now, as a member of the Community Advisory Committee for the Village Hill developments (on the former Northampton State Hospital property). Finally, I sing with Amandla, a community chorus based in Greenfield, and I am a committed fan of recorded books, which entertain me during frequent trips to New York City.