Patricia Jeffery speaks about teaching Gender and Development, and the “with gender” degree option at the University of Edinburgh

Patricia Jeffery: …somewhere along the line we thought this would be a good idea, gender studies degrees. And slowly it went through the boards of studies and so forth, because a lot of the courses that became part of the gender studies degrees were already on the books, apart from an overarching seminar, everything else was already on the books. It wasn’t a question of passing new courses. It was getting a format for a degree, how many courses would students do, how would they be assessed, how would their degrees be calculated and things like that.

Órla Murray: Did it have to be housed in a particular discipline, in a particular department, or was it housed across the faculty?

PJ: The degrees were stipulated as sociology ‘with’, or anthropology ‘with’ gender studies, so the students were based in their home departments but then picked and mixed on the option courses that they did, and then came together for this overarching seminar, honours seminar, which took all the students and we discussed a range of general gender related topics.

ÓM: Who then ran the seminars, was that shared between the-

PJ: Yes, I think we must’ve passed it round. I certainly did it for a number of years, but I didn’t do it the whole time the degrees were running.

ÓM: Were some of these courses team-taught? If so, was that different from other courses?

PJ: …Gender and Development I basically taught myself. There wasn’t anyone else in sociology who would have that kind of Global South perspective. The other courses, there was usually somebody in the department who was primarily responsible for it, but I think that would’ve been true for the non-gender courses as well. I don’t think there was anything particularly special in that way in the gender courses. They did, surprise surprise, tend to attract mainly women students and that probably does distinguish them from some of the other courses, but I’m not sure that the styles of teaching were necessarily very different from the other [courses]. Certainly there was some team teaching or I might invite somebody in to do a session…

ÓM: How did the ‘with women’s studies’ degree go? How was it received?

PJ: Not as well as we’d hoped… I think one of the troubles was, I had several young women saying it’s actually a bit of a no-no in the labour market to have a degree certificate which says something ‘with gender studies’. The way in which the honours curriculum is organised anyway is such that, in principle you could do outside options if you wanted to do a gender studies option from another department… For students in sociology, where there are already several courses with a gender focus, you could in effect do a gender studies degree and have a less iconoclastic title like ‘sociology’ attached to it. We got very small numbers, and while I was away on fieldwork, [the ‘with gender’ courses] got killed off, much to my distress.

ÓM: When did that happen?

PJ: That would’ve been the late ’90s. The argument was that it was heavy on labour resources—this one seminar. I didn’t buy it, but I wasn’t there to stop it. I came back to find it had been killed off.

ÓM: How small were the numbers?

PJ: We’re talking really quite small numbers, maybe half a dozen or ten at most. So it wasn’t drawing in the crowds. Although the option courses were. The option courses were teaching very much larger numbers than that.

ÓM: The sense is that this almost like an undercover gender studies degree was perhaps preferable for the labour market at the time?

PJ: Yes. Yes. I don’t know what it would be like now, whether that would be a killer on the labour market.

ÓM: I think it probably would be quite different now, but I suppose it depends where, it depends which employers…

PJ: Yes, and it depends which direction you’re wanting to take your career. But that’s sad.