Performing Identities in the Classroom

Teaching Jewish Women's Studies

Article appearing in Teaching Sociology, Volume 35, Issue 4

  • Co-Author:
  • Kathie Friedman with Karen Rosenberg
  • Publisher: JSTOR
  • Date: 2007
Teaching Sociology

Teaching about intersecting, fluid and historically contingent identities has been taken up extensively within the sociology of race, class and gender and women’s studies. Oddly, the case of Jewish women has been virtually left out of this robust literature. This article explores the challenges raised through teaching the course “Jewish Women in Contemporary America,” and links these challenges to the pedagogy of race, class and gender more broadly. Using the classroom as a research site, the authors conducted post-course interviews with students and kept detailed field notes on class sessions. The authors use Judith Butler’s theorization of performativity to analyze classroom dynamics. After redesigning and teaching the course a second time, the authors conclude that the relationship between “experience” and “theory” must be constantly interrogated by both instructor and students; that personal narratives merit space within the classroom, but must be problematized; and a critical Jewish Women’s Studies, based on illuminating the socially constructed and hybrid character of contemporary Jewish American women’s identities, can help to expose the tendency to methodological essentialism still prevalent in much of the feminist race, class, and gender literature.