Jocelyn OLCOTT


Jocelyn OLCOTT

History, Duke University, USA

Fellowship : October 2017 to June 2018

Discipline(s) : History

Pays : USA

Research project: The Revolution’s Revolutionary: Concha Michel and Mexico’s politics of motherhood

The Mexican folksinger and erstwhile Communist Concha Michel offers an ideal subject for what scholars have dubbed “new biography,” which explores both the interplay between structures and cultures and how individuals developed as fragmented subjects, often seeking to impose narrative coherence on their own lives. Michel, like many subjects of new biography, was an exceptional figure whose life story illuminates the worlds of actors less likely (either by temperament or by status) to make their way into the archives. Her life story, which spans from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the last decade of the twentieth, provides a vehicle for investigating Mexico’s widespread ambivalence about the commodification of both subsistence labour and popular culture that came with its modernisation efforts. We can observe the ways that shifts in prevailing political-economic thought — from late-nineteenth century liberalism to post-revolutionary populist nationalism to mid-century modernisation to post-1968 Marxist dependency theory and back to late-twentieth-century neoliberalism — rested upon assumptions about the unpaid and undervalued labours of social and cultural reproduction. In the Mexican context, these debates inevitably became imbricate with understandings of indigeneity and mestizaje. Michel’s late-life celebrity, particularly among “new-wave” feminists of the 1970s and ‘80s, allows for an investigation into the appeal of maternalist feminism, not as a more traditional variant of its liberal and radical counterparts but rather as a far-reaching refusal of neoliberalism that poses a more thoroughgoing critique than, for example, those based in Marxist thought. Michel’s life story, although riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies as any life is, provides a narrative vehicle to explore these questions on a human scale.


Jocelyn Olcott, Associate Professor of History and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University, is the author of Revolutionary Women in Post-revolutionary Mexico and International Women’s Year: The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History and co-editor with Mary Kay Vaughan and Gabriela Cano of Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico. She has returned to a long-standing project, a biography of the Mexican folksinger and activist Concha Michel. She has published articles in the Journal of Women’s History, the Hispanic American Historical Review, Gender & History, and International Labor and Working-Class History as well as numerous chapters in edited collections. She also served as a senior editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review (2012-17) as well as on the editorial boards of several other journals. She holds an AB from Princeton University and an MA and PhD from Yale University.

Major publications

OLCOTT, Jocelyn. International Women’s Year: The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017.

OLCOTT, Jocelyn. “Transnational Feminism: Event, Temporality, and Performance at the 1975 International Women’s Year Conference.” In Cultures in Motion, edited by Daniel T Rodgers, Bhavani Raman and Helmut Reimitz. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2013), 241-66.

OLCOTT, Jocelyn. “A Happier Marriage?: Feminist History Takes the Transnational Turn.” In Making Women’s Histories: Beyond National Perspectives, Pamela Nadell and Katherine Haulman, eds. New York: New York University Press (2013), 237-258.

OLCOTT, Jocelyn. “‘Take Off That Streetwalker’s Dress’: Concha Michel and the Cultural Politics of Gender in Postrevolutionary Mexico.” Journal of Women’s History 21:3 (Fall 2009), 36-59.

OLCOTT, Jocelyn. Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005