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Deconstructing instead of Reproducing the Canon

If we take a critical perspective on the processes and findings of knowledge production, we necessarily arrive at difficult questions about canon formation. The question of what counts as canonical depends on what is recognized as a discipline’s central knowledge and what is not. What are the criteria and standards of evaluation? Which authors and works are considered canonical and which ones are on the margins of the subject?

“The canon is made and is related to power from multiple points of view.” (Winko 2002: 9)

Women’s Studies has been critically deconstructing the established educational canon from the start:

“Its monuments and artifacts illustrate the twofold exclusion of women: first, women are scarcely present as producers; second, testaments to the horizons of women’s lives are marginally represented in them or molded by male interpretation.” (Bidwell-Steiner 2006: 36)

After exposing forms of normalization and exclusion, criticism of the canon can affirmatively extend it or deconstruct it. This approach can be applied to diversity as well as to gender. Who decides what should or should not be canonical? What consequences does this have for the research area and the discipline? What knowledge becomes part of students’ socialization in the field and what knowledge do they only encounter by chance or by seeking it out? Which forms of knowledge are appreciated? Which forms are devalued? (Such as oral history or experiences of discrimination.)

Ultimately, despite justified reservations, we cannot entirely avoid making decisions about canonized knowledge, for example when creating textbooks or designing degree programs. The selection of courses’ reading lists also contributes to this. The challenge for integrating gender and diversity lies in self-reflection on these subjects and in addressing power relations in the formation of the canon in your teaching. More under Academic Critique of One’s Discipline.


Bidwell-Steiner. 2006. Kanonkritik zwischen Herrschaftsraum und geschütztem Raum. In A Canon of Our Own? Kanonkritik und Kanonbildung in den Gender Studies, Hrsg. Marlen Bidwell-Steiner und Karin S. Wozonig, 35–41. Innsbruck / Wien / Bozen: Studienverlag.

Winko, Simone. 2002. Literaturkanon als invisible-hand-Phänomen. In Literarische Kanonbildung, Hrsg. Ludwig Arnold und Hermann Korte, 9–24. München: Edition Text und Kritik.

Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.