Embedding a gender perspective across the curriculum

Sciences Po Paris is a selective research university of international standing based on the values of openness and excellence. Its unique academic model combines expertise in the humanities and social sciences, multidisciplinarity and a professional grounding with the aim of educating professionals and citizens to be able to understand and transform society.

Despite this innovative model, 10 years ago, Sciences Po had no specific focuses on gender studies, even though some isolated researchers were working on gender inequalities and were teaching this topic.

To close that gap, in 2010 Sciences Po launched a multidisciplinary academic and research programme on gender studies, called PRESAGE (Programme de Recherche et d’Enseignement des SAvoirs sur le Genre, literally Research and Teaching Programme on Gender). The PRESAGE programme introduces a gender perspective to Sciences Po’s educational and scientific project, influencing both research and the curricula.

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A cross-disciplinary approach

The programme is based on the premise that gender studies are not a discipline per se but rather a research field that requires a cross-disciplinary approach.

Researchers and teachers of Sciences Po’s five overarching disciplines work together, constructing research and educational projects hand in hand: research findings in law, economics, history, political science and sociology shed new light on gender inequalities and women’s rights and all topics that are related to gender.

The programme is innovative in a number of ways:

  • • It adopts a comprehensive approach to gender issues based on a multidisciplinary approach covering economics, law, philosophy, political science, sociology and history.

  • • It breaks new intellectual ground by bringing together two fields of research on gender that have not previously communicated much: the perspective on the construction of identity and the socio-economic and historical approach to gender inequalities.

  • • The programme has an international focus to promote collaborations with researchers worldwide.

Interestingly, PRESAGE is an initiative that has been led by two economists, my colleague Françoise Milewski and me, who both work at the OFCE, the economics research centre of Sciences Po.

The PRESAGE programme was created under the guidance of a scientific committee made up of Sciences Po experts in the field, coming from a variety of disciplines, with a decidedly international orientation. The scientific board is composed of academics who have been internationally recognised such as Nancy Fraser, Geneviève Fraisse and Amartya Sen.

The research programme

Usually research on gender studies is separated into two fields that have little interaction.

On the one hand, the fields of philosophy, psychology and anthropology offer an analysis focused on individual sexual identity and the foundations of gender inequality in human relations (for example, Queer Theory).

On the other hand, the socio-economic and historical approach focuses on inequalities between men and women in all spaces of society, in the places of power and in the private sphere; it examines the history and development of this particular type of inequality as well as analysing public policies or employer policies from a gender perspective.

PRESAGE aims to aggregate these two fields of research under a single umbrella in order to develop a comprehensive and consistent approach.

High-level conferences on gender are given by researchers whose work has won an international reputation or young researchers whose work needs to be promoted to give them more visibility. These events are targeted to a broad public (NGO, activists, associations and so forth), including students and researchers at Sciences Po and those from other institutions.

Gender studies on the curriculum in Sciences Po

The teaching component of the programme involves both educating all Sciences Po students about gender issues as well as affecting a broad range of disciplines.

The guidelines for undergraduate courses specify the need to show students how social sciences tackle and conceptualise the issue of gender inequalities. Courses help to foster an understanding on how gender inequalities arise in terms of both their particular features and the way that they feed into other forms of social inequality.

Each major discipline taught at Sciences Po offers a course on gender: Gender Economics, Political Sciences and Gender, Sociology of Gender, History of Gender and Law and Gender.

A large set of optional courses completes this body of courses on gender, broadening the perspective (such as in literature… ).

This approach aims not only to teach students the analytical tools, theory or concepts available in each discipline but also to adopt a reflexive approach by shedding light on controversies and providing a critical approach on the different disciplinary paradigms with the aim of eventually answering the question, “What does it mean to each discipline to analyse gender inequalities?”

At the masters level, the types of courses offered cross the boundaries between disciplines and open up a critical perspective in social sciences through the gender prism.

In keeping with this cross-disciplinary approach, Sciences Po does not offer a masters degree in gender studies. On the contrary, we are about to launch a gender qualification that will be accessible to all students whatever specialty they are studying.

The objective is that students who have been involved in gender studies can claim these specific skills in their Sciences Po diploma. To do so, they will have to apply and defend a thesis in front of a jury that is specialised in gender studies.

PRESAGE is a new model that aims to institutionalise gender studies in higher education and research. This model does not rely on gathering researchers and teaching in a specific unit but promotes this approach throughout every graduate school and research centre. It appears to be an efficient way to disseminate a gender perspective in all fields of research without losing the specificity of the topic.

Hélène Périvier is a researcher in economics at OFCE (French Economic Observatory), Sciences Po Paris, and director of PRESAGE.