Nancy F. Cott


I'd like to begin the conference by making a few remarks on its theme, "Challenging Boundaries." Thematizing boundaries is a way to be both inclusive and critical: this has been an important agenda in much feminist criticism and scholarship for twenty-five years. Why? Most simply, I would say, both the radical and the reformist sensibilities of the women's movement have been aimed at changing the world as we have received it, at removing limits and constraints and oppressions that hamper human possibilities; and one inclusive way of naming such hindrances has been to see them as implicit or explicit boundaries, lines that are not supposed to be crossed. A good part of the burden of early feminist critiques was first to make implicit boundaries visible, and to show the way they operated not only to impose material constraints but also to shape perception of the world so as to engender self-policing.

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