In this anthology, Joan Scott reconfigures her understanding of feminist history and thus contributes to a long overdue theoretical discussion on how we can write feminist history in a globalizing world. She traces both the history of gender history and the history of feminist movements. Scott's main source of inspiration is the French version of psychoanalysis following Lacan. In a further development of her pioneering 1986 article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” she points out that gender is neither a mere social construction nor a somehow biological referent (such as “sex”). Integrating the constructive criticism of her approach elaborated prominently by Judith Butler during the 1990s, Scott argues instead that gender is a historically and culturally specific attempt to resolve the dilemma of sexual difference. Sexual difference, for its part, is also far from referring simply to physically different male/female bodies. Sexual difference is, for Scott, a permanent quandary for modern subjects, a puzzle to which every society or culture finds specific answers.
My reading of her book concentrates on two main questions that run like a thread through her considerations: First, how can we bridge the gap between a subject and a group? Second, how can we overcome binary oppositions and/or fixed categories and entities—a challenge that becomes even more important every day in a rapidly globalizing world. I broadly discuss the benefits and shortcomings of the pivotal role Scott ascribes to fantasy. Although the concept of fantasy is powerful and striking, particularly with reference to the concepts of “imagined communities” and “invented traditions,” coined by Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson, I find the Lacanian tone to be less convincing.