Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Gender & Sexuality Studies, University of California / Irvine

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Harvard University
Seeking Sisterhood: Elite Constructions of Gender in the Italian Freemasonry

This project intends to investigate gender relations and power dynamics in contemporary Italy through the ethnographic study of women in an elite secret society: the Italian Freemasonry. While access to the Freemasonic 'brotherhood' has traditionally been limited to men, women have found paths towards membership and 'sisterhood' that defy their official exclusion. In Italy, women's participation in Freemasonry has taken primarily one of three possible forms: a) initiation in special orders for female relatives of Freemason men b) initiation in 'heretical' mixed-gender groups; c) initiation in ‘heretical' women-only orders. Recognizing that elite women are not a monolithic group, I will compare these Freemasonic orders to investigate the plurality of meanings that gender acquires through different experiences of' sisterhood'. Rather than reducing women's involvement in a nationalist secret society to a simple mimicking of elite men's 'brotherhoods', I take the elaboration of a discourse of 'sisterhood' in its own terms, as a powerful and understudied expression of elite women's mobilizing. Conservative women occupy an awkward epistemological space in critical theories and they are an invisible ethnographic population. Observing elite women's experiences in conservative movements I thus hope to gain a better understanding of the dynamic ways in which gender is shaped by nationalist values of culture, knowledge, and intellectualism, and, in tum, of how conservative women's complicity in certain conceptualizations of gender reproduces nationalist distinctions marked through class and race.