Watson seminar explores the complex relationship between capitalism and gender

Watson Postdoctoral Fellow Carissa Tudor is teaching her popular gender and capitalism seminar for a second consecutive year.

This spring semester, professor Carissa Tudor, who earned her Ph.D. in comparative politics from Princeton University in 2022 and is a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, is teaching her Gender and Capitalism seminar for a second time to introduce Brown students to the complex relationship between gender and the development of capitalism. 

Tudor said she wants students in the seminar to rethink the simplistic narrative that in pre-capitalist societies, there was little to no participation in public life from women and modernity opened up greater opportunities for women to participate in society. "It's a much more complicated story than that," she said. "If we examine it from different gender perspectives or break it down even further from intersectional perspectives–from different racial and gender perspectives–then that narrative looks a lot different," she said. 

One of the seminar's themes, Tudor said, is questioning "the idea that capitalism improves gender equality and improves women's condition." She noted that research indicates that these counterintuitive relationships also exist in politics. In her research, she finds, "In some contexts, women's political rights have actually declined over time, particularly with the advent of modern democracy." 

According to Tudor, more recent research, including her own, challenges the narrative of a linear progression toward greater rights for women. "That's part of the arc that I like to have students explore in the course," she said.

Tudor says some of the issues she has explored with the class include women's participation in the workforce, the pay gap, care work, unpaid labor, as well as population and reproduction.

Tudor said, "We study the history of the state's role in population growth and how race and gender play into that." "Because, on the one hand," she said, "it's been a space in which states have used that as a way to have a maternalist, pronatalist agenda, trying to promote women having children." "But then on the flip side," she said, "it has also been about restricting population or restricting births of certain people. We've seen forced sterilizations, and there are a lot of really horrible racial and ethnic hierarchies that determine which of those policy approaches are taken."

Population growth and reproduction are critical issues when studying the intersection between capitalism and gender, she said, "because population growth is necessary to continue growing capitalist economies. Exploring colonial projects provides another opportunity for viewing gender through racial hierarchies."

Tudor noted the course also has a theoretical component. "We have two theoretical weeks. We do a week on gender theory and a week on Marxist theory and Marxist gender theory," Tudor said. "I think it's important to expose students to empirical work but also to big ideas," she said. 

Flynn Begor, a junior concentrating in Modern Culture and Media who took the seminar in the fall of 2021, said she appreciated the spirit of open inquiry Tudor encouraged. Professor Tudor "fostered an environment that allowed for the sharing of different perspectives and lenses across disciplines, which lent to an enriching discussion of the material," she said.

Rami Najjar, a junior concentrating in International and Public Affairs and Economics, also praised Tudor's ability to foster an inclusive classroom culture. He noted the class "has provided me with enriching new perspectives on how the history of capitalism has been shaped by the patriarchy, and through in-class discussions, we have been able to create a collaborative learning environment where we can share our thoughts and interpretations and learn from one another."

Tudor said she hopes students take away from the seminar the idea that "narratives of progress are a lot more complicated than we think, and we should not think of progress as inevitable." She said it is probably easier for that narrative to sink in with today's college students because "it's a little bit more in their face that their rights aren't a given, especially for women."