In this interview, feminist historian Joan Wallach Scott discusses her first encounters with critical theory, the early days of teaching women's history, her turn to the history of the present, her work on the history of feminism, her book on the Muslim veil, and her current project on secularism. Scott was trained as a social historian of France, and her first book was The Glassworkers of Carmaux: French Craftsmen and Political Action in a Nineteenth-Century City. With Louise Tilly she authored Women, Work, and Family. As founding director of Brown University's Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Scott participated in a feminist theory reading group with scholars such as Naomi Schor and Elizabeth Weed. Her seminal essay, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” reflects this encounter with theory. At first her strongest theoretical influence was Michel Foucault. Her most recent work has taken the form of histories of the present, beginning with two genealogical studies of contemporary French feminism, Only Paradoxes to Offer and Parité! She only gradually became interested in Freud and Jacques Lacan. In Politics of the Veil, psychoanalysis proved useful in her analysis of the Muslim head-scarf controversies in French schools, and it plays an even more prominent role in her forthcoming book, The Fantasy of Feminist History. She recently led a seminar on secularism at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where she is on the faculty. She is currently interested in Freud, whom she reads as a secular theorist of sexuality.

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