Jewish Women’s Transracial Epistemological Networks: Representations of Black Women in the African Diaspora, 1930-1980 Dissertation

(2018). Jewish Women’s Transracial Epistemological Networks: Representations of Black Women in the African Diaspora, 1930-1980 . 10.25148/etd.FIDC004069

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Gondek, Abby S


  • This dissertation investigates how Jewish women social scientists relationally established their gendered-racialized subjectivities and theories about race-gender-sexuality-class through their portrayals of black women’s sexuality and family structures in the African Diaspora: the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, Swaziland, and the U.K. The central women in this study: Ellen Hellmann, Ruth Landes, Hilda Kuper, and Ruth Glass, were part of the same “political generation,” born in 1908-1912, coming of age when Jews of European descent experienced an ambivalent and conditional assimilation into whiteness, a form of internal colonization. I demonstrate how each woman’s familial origin point in Europe, parental class and political orientations, were important factors influencing her later personal/professional networks and social science theorizing about women of color. However, other important factors included the national racial context, the political affiliations of her partners, her marital status and her transracial fieldwork experiences. One of the main problems my work addresses is how the internal colonization process in differing nations within the Jewish diaspora differently affected and positioned Jewish social scientists from divergent class and political affiliations. Gendering Aamir Mufti’s primarily male-oriented argument, I demonstrate how Jewish internal divergences serve as an example that highlights the lack of uniformity within any “identity” group, and the ways that minority groups, like Jews, use measures of “abnormal” gender and sexuality, to create internal exiled minorities in order to try to assimilate into the majority colonizing culture. My dissertation addresses three problems within previous studies of Jewish social scientists by creating a gendered analysis of the history of Jews in social science, an analysis of Jewish subjectivity within histories of women (who were Jewish) in social science, and a critique of the either-or assumption that Jewishness necessarily equated with a “radical” anti-racist approach or a “colonizing” stance toward black communities. The data collection followed a mixed methods approach, incorporating archival research, ethnographic object analysis, site visits in Brazil and South Africa, consultations with library, archive and museum professionals, and interviews with scholars connected to the core women in the study.

publication date

  • March 21, 2018


  • African diaspora
  • Jewish diaspora
  • Jewish subjectivity
  • Jewish women
  • black women
  • history of social science
  • internal colonization
  • whiteness

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)