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Matriarchies are the subject of Modern Matriarchal Studies, which investigates and presents matriarchal societies found all over the world. These investigations focus not only on the past, but also pay attention to still existing societies with matriarchal patterns in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific area. Contrary to common belief, none of these is a mere reversal of patriarchy. Rather, they are all gender-egalitarian societies, and many of them are fully egalitarian. This means they have no hierarchies, classes nor domination of one gender by the other.
Matriarchal studies started in the middle of the 19th century with the pioneering theories of Johann Jakob Bachofen (1861) and Lewis Henry Morgan (1851). Bachofen’s work is in the field of history of cultures, and it represents a perfect parallel to the work of Morgan (in the field of anthropology/ethnology), who did research in the indigenous society of the Iroquois of his time. For more than a century, the discussion on “mother right“ and “matriarchy“ continued: the subject now was used and abused by all the intellectual schools of thought, and all political parties, each with its distinctly different point of view.
Unfortunately, their research didn’t have a really scientific foundation because of the lack of a clear definition of this type of society, and because of a lot of patriarchally biased presuppositions which distorted their findings. This situation continued. Up until recently, research in the field of matriarchy – often covered under false headlines – has lacked scientific defining and an elaborated methodology, in spite of the existence of several competent studies and extensive data collection. This absence of scientific rigor opens up the door to the emotional and ideological, i.e. sexist and racist entanglements that have been a burden for this socio-cultural science from the very beginning. Patriarchy itself has not been critically considered in the treatment of this subject, while stereotypical views of women – and a neurotic fear of women’s alleged power – has often confused the issues.
Over the past few decades matriarchal studies have been undergirded with a scientific foundation, developed by Heide Goettner-Abendroth and other scholars, thus making way for Modern Matriarchal Studies.
This enterprise differs in several ways from the previous matriarchal studies:
- it articulates a specific and comprehensive definition of terms,
- it uses an explicit methodology,
- it presents a systematic criticism of the ideological patriarchal bias that characterizes existing social and cultural sciences.
In this way a new socio-cultural science has been created, one that represents a new paradigm. The central tenet of this paradigm is that women have not only created society and culture over long periods of human history, but that all subsequent cultural developments originated there.
At two World Congresses on Matriarchal Studies, organised by International Academy HAGIA and guided by Heide Goettner-Abendroth, these largely misunderstood societies were presented to a wider public. In 2003, the first World Congress on Matriarchal Studies titled SOCIETIES IN BALANCE took place in Luxembourg/Europe. The second World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, titled SOCIETIES OF PEACE, was held 2005 at the Texas State University of San Marcos/U.S., it was co-organized by the Center for the Study of the Gift Economy of Genevieve Vaughan. Both congresses brought together international scholars (Peggy Reeves Sanday, Hélène Claudot-Hawad, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, to name only few) and indigenous researchers from many of the world’s still existing matriarchal societies (Barbara Mann, Iroquois; Usria Dhavida, Minangkabau; Savithri de Tourreil, Nayar; Patricia Mukhim, Khasi; Lamu Gatusa, Mosuo; Malika Grasshoff, Kabyle; Wilhelmina Donkoh, Akan; and others). They spoke not only about the matriarchal patterns their societies have preserved, but also about the societal and political problems that colonization and missionization have caused to their communities. In this way, they corrected the distorted perspective often held by non-indigenous peoples.
More conferences of the Academy HAGIA will follow on national and international levels to make modern Matriarchal Studies continuously visible. In 2009, the international conference A Motherworld is possible. Two Feminist Visions: Gift Economy and Matriarchal Studies, guided by Genevieve Vaughan and Heide Goettner-Abendroth, took place at the York University in Toronto/Canada 2009.
Read more in:
Heide Goettner-Abendroth (ed.):
Societies of Peace. Matriarchies Past, Present and Future
Selected papers of the two World Congresses on Matriarchal Studies
Inanna Press, York University, Toronto/Canada 2009