Feminist theories and practices

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Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Feminist theory, thought divided in different approaches, focuses on understanding and challenging the social inequalities and injustices that arise from the gender divisions and differences embedded in the patriarchal structure of societies. As it aims to analyse social structures, structural conflicts, social behaviours but also forms of oppression and discrimination directly stemming from State institutions and even geopolitical arrangements, feminist theory can be regarded as a brunch of political sociology with large influence also on political science. Some of the key areas of interest include discrimination on the basis of sex and gender, objectification, economic inequality, power, gender roles, and stereotypes. While feminist theory is intertwined with critical philosophy, it also implies a distinctive epistemology for studying the social world, looking at both structures of oppression and dynamic processes of liberation. Despite many significant differences, feminist theory is an intellectual enterprise, as well as an analytical and political effort rooted in social movements advancing equality, freedom, and justice. Therefore, feminist theory can only be understood in reference to the actual practices of the feminist movements that have appeared over time, which have inspired and in turn have been inspired by those theories.

Feminist theory has emerged from these feminist movements and has manifested in a variety of academic disciplines, such as feminist geography, feminist history and feminist literary criticism. As a combination of theories and practices, feminism has altered predominant perspectives in a wide range of areas within Western society and beyond, ranging from culture to law. Rather than focusing on feminist theory only, the Course will investigate the connections between different theoretical approaches and social movements’ practices: How are different feminist theories reflected in different feminist movements? What type of organising have they inspired (and vice versa)? What type of actions? How can we start to account for the differential ways that agency has been taken up in relation to feminist theories and activist projects? How have feminist theories intersected with other theoretical approaches? What methodologies have feminist scholars proposed to investigate women’s activism? How can we use them? What ethical issue do they imply?


The Course will have a seminar structure, with weekly discussions on selected readings dealing with different feminist theories and empirical research on feminist practices and repertoires of action. Every session will be introduced by the lecturer (or by a guest lecturer), followed by an open discussion of the readings. Attendees are required to read the material, present the readings in a critical perspective, and actively participate in the collective discussion. References to the attendees’ own research projects are encouraged.


PhD students will be evaluated based on their active participation in class, and the instructor will determine whether they have passed or failed the Course. PhD students who opt to write a term paper for this Course should consult the instructor in advance and agree on a topic.

Master students will be evaluated based on their active participation in class (50%) and on a final paper of 2000-3000 words on one of the topics covered during the Course (50%). The instructor is available for consultation on the topic of the paper and for advice on its structure and content. The final grade will be expressed on a 30-point scale. The paper can be written in English or Italian and must be delivered by the end of March 2024.


1. The concept of feminist “waves” and its critics

Wednesday 10 January 2024; h 15-17

The history of the feminist movements has often been divided in three “waves”. The course will adopt a diachronic approach to trace the birth and evolution of the feminist movements, their theories and practices. However, the concept of waves has also received criticism, as it may suggest the idea of uniform and monolithic feminist movements, ignoring complexities, linkages between theories and practices, and also the presence of often simultaneous movements within and across race, ethnicity, class. Just to give an example the slogan “The Personal is Political” is the watch word of Second Wave feminist projects and continues to inform our ideas about feminist activist practice and the relationship between feminist theory and practice also today.

2. The beginnings: Liberal feminism and its struggles for formal rights; Marxist/Socialist feminism and the struggles for labour rights

Friday 19 January 2024; h 10-13

Liberal feminism had a role in first women’s protests in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, aimed at obtaining gender equality through formal instruments such as basic legal and political rights (rights of contract, property rights, voting rights). Later, claims for workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay, resonated in Marxist feminism that established itself as an attempt to incorporate class and capitalism in the understanding of gender divisions.

3. Radical feminism and the “second wave” of the 1960s and the 1970s

Wednesday 7 February 2024; h 11-13

In the 1960s and the 1970s a second wave of feminist protests and actions occurred, fighting for women's right to bodily integrity and autonomy, for abortion rights, and for reproductive rights (including access to contraception and quality prenatal care). These claims were articulated in Radical feminism – a strand of thought that had various articulations – born as critique to liberal feminism to advance a reflection on the role of women in the overcoming of a male-controlled, capitalist hierarchy resulting in multiple forms of women’s oppression.

4. Postmodern feminism: diversity in movements

Wednesday 14 February 2024; h 11-13

Emphasis on patriarchy remains in the so-called Postmodern feminism, typical of the movements of the 1990s, defined as “the ultimate acceptor of diversity. Multiple truths, multiple roles, multiple realities are part of its focus. There is a rejectance of an essential nature of women, of one-way to be a woman” (Olson 1996; p. 19).

5. Black feminism and intersectional practices

Wednesday 21 February 2024; h 10-13

Guest lecturer: Lucia Amorosi

During much of its history, most feminist movements and theories had predominantly been associated with middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America. However, at least since activist Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech to American feminists, women of other “races” have proposed alternative feminisms. This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the collapse of European colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia, giving rise to “black feminism” and “post-colonial feminism”, which are critical of Western feminism for being ethnocentric, and have adopted the concept of intersectionality to analyse the forms of oppression deriving by the intertwining of gender, class and race.

6. Post-colonial feminism and women’s struggles in once-colonized territories

Wednesday 28 February 2024; h 10-13

Guest lecturer: Natasha Aidoo (to be confirmed)

7. A fourth wave? The global revolt against gender-based violence

Wednesday 6 March 2024; h 10-13

Guest lecturer: Giada Bonu Rosenkranz

Recently, some scholars have talked of a fourth wave, to describe the new feminist movements that have emerged globally mostly pointing at gender-based violence, broadly understood as a set of behaviours ranging from verbal violence and psychological violence to sexual harassment and rape, domestic violence, feminicide.

8. Introduction to feminist methodology and ethical concerns

Wednesday 13 March 2024; h 11-13

A final part of the Course will be devoted to feminist methodology: feminist researchers employ the tools of standpoint epistemologies, intersectionality, interdisciplinarity, and the intertwining of scholarship and activism to contribute to political sociology and political science, but also to contribute to social change. With the term “malestream” they highlight the need for more inclusive research methodologies and theoretical perspectives that better represent and address the experiences and issues of women and other marginalized groups, calling to move beyond the male-centric biases in various academic disciplines, including sociology. Feminist research in sociology is mostly qualitative; while it encompasses different methods (interviews, participant observation, and so on), projects share a commitment to feminist ethics and theories. Among the commitments are the understanding that knowledge is situated in the subjectivities and lived experiences of both researcher and participants and research is deeply reflexive. Feminist theory informs both research questions and the methodology of a project in addition to serving as a foundation for analysis. The goals of feminist sociological research include dismantling systems of oppression, highlighting gender-based disparities, and promoting alternatives.

Obiettivi formativi

This Course will enable students to

  • explore different approaches to feminist theory, recognizing similarities and interrogating differences between and among these approaches;
  • evaluate feminist theories in a critical and rigorous manner;
  • articulate how feminist theories shape academic research;
  • draw on feminist theories to explore their own areas of interest;
  • reflect on the relationship between feminist theories and movements’ practices;
  • appreciate the interactive and reciprocal nature of feminist theory, practice and activism;
  • recognize political and ethical issues in relation to feminist theory and the study of feminist activism;
  • consider the collaborative nature of feminist theories and practices.

Riferimenti bibliografici

We will have 8 Sections. The list of reading will be available by Monday 18th December.