The business of politics and gender

Coming from a philosophical background, Professor Jim Jose is a political scientist with a an interest in political ideas and their impact on everyday politicsJim’s office, enveloped by towering piles of books squeezed into every centimetre of shelf space, exemplifies an academic with diverse and divergent research areas. But it takes an excursion into his motivation to understand how his endlessly-fascinating mind works.

Having started his working life as an apprentice electrician with the Department of Civil Aviation, Jim’s thirst for knowledge impelled him to higher education and the University of Adelaide where he enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Politics and Philosophy. While it was philosophy that drew Jim to study, it was politics that directed his learning arc.

“I was always interested in political philosophy and political theory, partly as a result of an interest in the history of political thought and seeking to understand why humans do things the way that they do,” Jim explains. “It just so happened that the politics department at UOA had some of the most interesting courses on offer which I found more appealing than the one single political philosophy course in a sea of mainstream analytic philosophy.”

The study of the history of political thought and contemporary political theory, including a course on Freud, Sartre and Chomsky, was buffered with the obligatory study of Marx. And here’s where Jim’s interest was piqued. “I was drawn to political philosophy more than the nuts and bolts side of politics, though you cannot really escape the latter, sooner or later you have to make connections between theory and practice.”

That philosophical background has helped Jim navigate a complex, and often surprising global political landscape, where he is often called upon by media to offer commentary on current political events. “The philosophy gives you the tools to understand the conceptual nature of political thought: how it evolves, fits together and gets used.”

Jim acknowledges that, conversely, a knowledge of the practical side of politics is necessary to understand the philosophical – which is where his focus on governance discourse comes in. Governance is a little-understood, but widely used, term which has now been appropriated through academia and the corporate world.

The term has been around for quite some time, but re-emerged in Australia in around 1992 when we saw a huge spike in its usage. “It is part of a shift in the way that politics and economics relate to each other,” says Jim. “The World Bank wrote a number of reports around governance in the late 80s and early 90s around poverty and development, and one of the major findings was that there would be better improvements in the developing world if they had better governance structures. In the view of the World Bank (and other financial institutions) you need good governance structures in place to ensure that corruption did not occur, that there were clear audit-trails in place.”

“Governance is just another fancy word for managing, but it has taken on a lustre all of its own and people use it interchangeably with government, yet government and governance have subtly different, separate but interconnected, meanings.”

It is this subtle nuance of words and their meanings that set Jim on another research area: feminist theory.

A gendered perspective on feminism

Jim’s interest in feminist political theory was sparked at an early stage in his academic career. “One of the things that fascinated me about political discourse was that there were certain terms that were deemed to be generic: the body, human nature, the individual, citizen. All these terms were considered non sex-specific. But when you explored the language of political thought there seemed to be some odd sleights of hand going on where there was a gendered influence. Man was claimed to be generic, but in many cases you cannot substitute ‘woman’ for ‘man’ and have the inference be the same.”

“This fascinated me, there are two bodies, but one concept – the ‘body’. How can we talk about and think about what people do if we have a language that continually absorbs one half of the human race, a phrase taken from a rather famous book?” Jim muses. This conversation leads Jim to his well-stacked bookshelves, where he immediately plucks one book from the pile. It’s a book published in 1825 with the unwieldy title: “An Appeal of one Half of the Human Race, Women, on behalf of the other half, Men, to Retain them in Political and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, in reply to a paragraph of Mr. Mill’s celebrated “Article on Government”.”

“I discovered this book by chance, as a first year student in the days when libraries were places where you browsed stacks. For some reason I couldn’t find the book I was looking for, so I started browsing along the shelf and found some really interesting stuff – including this book.”

Although coming up to 200 years old, and with the authors virtually forgotten, Jim says that this book sums up the key issue of feminist political theory: “How can we discuss political philosophy as if one half of the human race is invisible?

This became an undercurrent in both Jim’s research and teaching. “Every now and again it would re-emerge, and I would get fascinated with some aspect and nibble away at it,” Jim says. “Every couple of years there’ll be a spike of feminist outlook, and then I’ll go back into other more mundane areas.”

Writing about feminism as a man is a unique angle. Jim is conscious of this position and frames his work appropriately, exploring the threads that he has pursued throughout his research career. For example, Jim is passionate about exploring anarchist theorists such as Emma Goldman, and why her prolific role in the development of anarchist political philosophy is still under-recognised when compared to men anarchists.

Much of Jim’s research comes about through a sense of inspired curiosity, but it requires a great deal of persistence. “Tenacity is essential as a researcher, you cannot let little setbacks dictate how you do your research. A lot of interesting research outcomes arise somewhat serendipitously, often you find what you’re looking for when you’re not looking for it.”

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.