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Study of Women and Gender


Martha Ackelsberg
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government
Program for the Study of Women and Gender

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Martha Ackelsberg earned her B.A. in social studies from Radcliffe College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. (in political philosophy) from Princeton University.

I have been involved in women's studies both at Smith and in the Valley for over 30 years. I taught one of the first courses dealing with gender at the college (Women and Social Change, in 1974-75); have participated in the Women's Studies Committee—now the Committee on the Study of Women and Gender—since its inception (initially as the Advisory Committee on the Study of Women's Experience); and have served as member and chair of the Five College Women's Studies Committee as well.

My teaching, research and writing have all centered 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 (United States) urban politics, political participation, the politics of 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 for those who are 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 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/bisexuals and the transgendered within the Jewish community. And, more recently, I have been a contributor to ongoing debates about "gay marriage."

During the 2010-11 academic year, I served as Resident Director of PRESHCO (Programa de Estudios Hispánicos—Córdoba), a consortial study abroad program in which Smith participates. I am always eager to talk about the program and/or life in Córdoba, which I have many opportunities to do in my capacity as Smith campus co-coordinator for the program. I am also 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 http://www.amandlachorus.org, a community chorus based in Greenfield, that specializes in songs of peace and justice.

Finally, I serve as a member of the Northampton Housing Partnership, a city board that advocates for, and educates the community about, affordable housing in Northampton.