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Annotated Bibliography

carolyn.j's picture

So as to keep track of the reading I do in association with this course, I will compile an annotated bibliography as I find and read various works.  The articles and books I find to read come from a variety of places - syllabi from relevant courses that have been posted online; searches within Bryn Mawr's library resources; and suggestions from either Anne, my work supervisor, or other relevant faculty members at Bryn Mawr.  My reading is also highly dependent on what of the potential materials can actually be accessed through the Bryn Mawr library system.

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carolyn.j's picture

Rethinking Contemporary Feminist Politics

Dean, Jonathan.  Rethinking Contemporary Feminist Politics.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.  7-36.  Print.

 

In the first section of his book Rethinking Contemporary Feminist Politics, Jonathan Dean sets out to consider and critique two major academic narratives of feminist politics: the perceived decline of the idealized feminist movement of the 1970s, and the re-emergence of a revitalized, radical feminist movement in the present moment.  With regard to the first trend, one of the key problems Dean picks out is the distinction that has been made between a single, identifiable women’s movement – what may believe the 70s to have been – versus a generalized, disorganized continuation of sexual politics.  This is harmful to analysis of the past and the present, as it erases the diversity and disunity that did exist in the 70s, as well as discredits the work being done now by feminist political practice.  For the second trend, Dean casts academic concerns as resting between optimism at the energy and youth of modern third-wave feminism versus critiques pointing to the emergence and dangers of gender mainstreaming.  Ultimately, Dean asserts his own central concern: that “radicalism” is being unfairly and unhelpfully equated with “autonomy” in examining the women’s movement.

Dean’s overview of the course of feminist discourse is consistent with what I have read this semester.  My readings and experiences have touched on each of these themes – the makeup of the women’s movement, the dangers of mainstreaming, new radical energies – and having been introduced to all of them was hugely beneficial to my personal, academic, and professional growth.

Regarding Dean, though, I have a concern.  Reading any self-proclaimed feminist text written by a man is already a fraught engagement; but at least the subject matter of this first chapter is more easily approached by an outsider (more easily; it still remains that Dean writes as one not part of and not affected by the feminist movement in the same way).  However, I noticed in reading this chapter that Dean had an increasingly repetitive tendency to dichotomize his argument.  Opinions regarding the past or present women’s movements, in addition to the separated transnational, state, and postcolonial feminisms were all organized as one academic perspective juxtaposed to another.  While contrast is a helpful explanatory and analytical tool, it remains that life is rarely so simple; I would have preferred to have read an analysis that did not succumb to normative academic pressures to dichotomize, and instead made a greater effort to demonstrate the variety of views being expressed.  Even if there are only two major discourses regarding, for instance, third-wave feminism – that it is young and radical versus completely gender mainstreamed – I would rather not have the two set counter to each other.

Finally, Dean’s point about the equation of radicalism with autonomy is actually quite interesting.  Having this pointed out does cause me to stop and reconsider how I perceive more traditional feminist organizing.  For all my passion for radical feminism, it is important to remember that there is a method of radicalism that works within systems to change them, versus just outside and against them.  As far as Dean’s argument, though, I am not convinced that tying radicalism and autonomy is so bad.  The consequences of gender mainstreaming are very real; I would posit instead that my concern regarding “radical” is not that the term is unhelpfully paired with “autonomous,” but rather that it is a term both too feared in mainstream discourse, but also too moderately applied when it is used. 

carolyn.j's picture

Skeptical Feminism, cont.

Dever, Carolyn.  Skeptical Feminism: Activist Theory, Activist Practice.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.  141-161.  Print.

 

Dever’s chapter “Obstructive Behavior: Dykes in the Mainstream of Feminist Theory” in Skeptical Feminism considers how the conceptual and real presence of lesbians in the women’s movement has historically presented a point of disruption and challenge.  To begin, Dever notes that while feminism has historically had discourse about sexual revolution, it has been far less welcoming of sexual difference.  As such, it has faced disagreement both on the front of heterosexism within the feminist movement, but also the problematic, desexualizing expansion of the term “lesbian” to encompass all women.  Through her piece, Dever constructs “dyke” as a metaphor within feminist theory, representing the challenges confronting feminist theory both internally and externally.

Overall this section of Dever’s book was less directly applicable to the work I’ve been engaged in, either practically or theoretically (as interesting as it was to read).  However, Dever’s discussion of lesbians as presumed feminists struck me as analogous to the assumption that women’s organizations are feminist organizations.  Just as lesbianism does not necessitate alignment with feminist ideals and beliefs – though certainly I think there is a significant and not unrelated overlap between those two spheres – organizations that are women-led and/or cater to women should not be assumed to be feminist.

Such an assumption should be read and challenged from two perspectives.  For one, those organizations may not self-identify as feminist.  Just as there are female politicians who actively oppose women’s rights through such means as positioning themselves as anti-choice, there are women’s organizations who may object to feminist ideology.  Such a position may be ridiculous and frustrating (in my opinion) given that they are women serving women, but it remains that such groups exist and as such should not be cast as feminist.

On the other hand – and more complicatedly so – are organizations that may perceive themselves as feminist, but others do not.  But that begs the question, by what measure do we call an organization feminist?  There is no standard for feminism; and feminist critiques abound where one group or individual calls out another self-proclaimed feminist as not truly so.  Clearly self-identification is not enough – and nor should it be – but at the same time it is often difficult to settle the matter past that.  But to blindly assume that a women’s organization is feminist is not helpful in those instances when we can agree that they are not.       

Anne Dalke's picture

dykes/dikes?

Playing w/ the words here, the sense of boundaries and walls and...

obstacles. The related metaphors of dykes and dikes...

So not all women's organizations are feminist, not all feminists are lesbians...

and so: do you have a working definition of feminism @ this point?

(last question of the semester! ;)

carolyn.j's picture

Skeptical Feminism

Dever, Carolyn.  Skeptical Feminism: Activist Theory, Activist Practice.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.  1-51.  Print.

 

The introduction to Dever’s book addresses the work’s central purpose: to examine feminist theory and practice so as to consider how they relate to and inform each other, both throughout the history of the modern women’s movement and using specific concepts to explore their interaction.  The conclusion Dever ultimately comes to is that there must be a constant translation between theory and practice. 

The first chapter examines how theory played into the earlier stages of the women’s movement in the 1960s and 70s.  By Dever’s analysis, this was accomplished through the consciousness-raising movement, wherein through exposure to feminist ideas and collective discussion, more widespread groups of women became aware of their oppression.  Dever takes care to detail the problematic aspects of this movement in its appeal and application to almost exclusively white, middle-class, heterosexual women, as well as the balance it variously maintained between effectively reclaiming patriarchal norms of femininity versus unintentionally reinforcing them in counterproductive ways.  Consciousness-raising is in the end posited as a positive force, in that it helped generate early stages of not just feminist action, but of praxis between theory and practice in the women’s movement.

First off, the central purpose claim of Dever’s book is precisely what I have been exploring in my Praxis work: “The dialectical nature of feminism requires constant translation, the engineering of a balance between theory and practice, abstraction and materiality” (25).  What her writing gradually and not always explicitly conveys, though, is that this translation is not a two-step process.  Feminist practice is not directly generated from the arguments and proposals offered by feminist theory; rather, the two inform each other equally.  Translation occurs between them, in a conversation; not from one to the other.  For most of my Praxis work I have assumed the singular direction of theory into practice; various readings, experiences, and reflections have tended in the direction of this more equal framework, but until now I had not made the leap to acknowledging this difference explicitly and restructuring the perspective with which I consider and examine my Praxis work. 

By acknowledging the degree to which the actions of the women’s movement inform the theory that surrounds it, the reactions and questions I have had in response to my work are put into a new light.  Each time I have been confronted with the realistic limitations placed upon progressive organizations – for instance, one organization’s choice to value its ability to provide community services rather than take a political stance on abortion (RESPONSE X) – it is crucial to remember that for all the ideals of theory, those real restrictions are equally valid and should have a role in informing the theory we have to consider women’s movements with.

At the same time, while on my end I need to be more conscious of what organizational actions, strategies, and challenges can contribute to the theory that has been produced, organizations perhaps also have some responsibility to keep more in mind the goals and ideals embodied in feminist theory.  The challenges organizations face are real; but simply accepting the present reality’s restrictions is not always acceptable.  Organizations should take time to push back – not just against the immediate obstacles to action, but also against the larger structural forms that hinder larger feminist goals.  When constantly struggling to make progress in a frustratingly prejudiced, ignorant, and slow-moving world, though, how can actors in the women’s movement make sure they take some of their time – already in short supply – to make sure they participate equally in the conversation between theory and practice?

Anne Dalke's picture

two-way street

This seems an important insight for you, Carolyn: the bi-directional nature of the "translation" between theory and practice, the ways in which needs to continually inform (and interrogate! and push!) the other.

I'll also want to discuss how you understand the relation between "translation" and the "transparency" you invoke as an ideal in your responses [which, btw, I think should be retitled--in the interests of transparency!!] this week: if the relation between theory and practice, and between legal language and accessible langauge, should/could be "transparent," then no "translation" would be necessary....right? But mightn't the distinction between the two--and so the necessity for translation between them--be definitional/fundamental?

carolyn.j's picture

Guest Lecture - Heidi Hartmann

Hartmann, Heidi.  “Men, Women, the Recession and the Recovery.”  Greater Philadelphia Women’s Studies Consortium.  Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA.  12 November 2013.  Guest lecture.

 

Attending Hartmann’s lecture, “Men, Women, the Recession and the Recovery,” was for me an introduction into how the patriarchy intersects with economics.  I have only taken one course in economics – ECON 105 – and most of the feminism I have studied touches on economics on a much more generic level – noting the disparity in pay, the way various jobs are dominated by one gender or the other, etc.  I had never before been as clearly presented with the statistical reality of women’s economic disadvantage; and even more so, I had not been cognizant of the details of patriarchal normativity within the discipline of economics itself (it was not surprising that this was so; I simply hadn’t been aware of how it played out).

The patriarchal dominance of the field of economics was what I found most interesting about Hartmann’s lecture.  For instance, she mentioned the consistent failure of mainstream economic agencies and thinktanks to differentiate economic disparities within the category “women.”  By treating women as a blanket category and rarely acknowledging the intersections of race, class, etc. that also impact women’s economic situations, economic organizations do a massive disservice to the populations that most need widespread cognizance of the structural inequalities they face.

Furthermore, Hartmann’s account of how male-dominated the personnel of economic organizations tend to be was also not surprising even as it was disparaging to hear.  Attending a female-dominated institution like Bryn Mawr and working in an exclusively female office, I am in many ways saved the harsh reality of male-dominated spaces.  I absolutely stand by Bryn Mawr and the feminist space it provides as a female-centric (though not female-exclusive) space, but there are times when I regret the unfortunate reality I will experience when I leave Bryn Mawr, and I am no longer in such a clearly constituted female space.  I don’t imagine I will lack such spaces wherever I go – my current work and the ambitions it is reflective of are such that I don’t imagine my work post-graduation will take me to male-dominated organizations or work – but the majority of the spaces I exist in and move through will not be so. 

To return to Hartmann’s lecture…I think her closing statement is worth repeating: poverty rates would fall by half if women earned the same as men.  That such a simple fact is ignored by much of society and that the structural change required to remedy it is resisted in so many ways is a travesty.  The work I do with my organization is not usually focused in this area – though it may be more so in the future, depending on whether we adopt a new issue area – I am supremely pleased and thankful to have the opportunity to work with women’s issues at all, such that what I can contribute to the cause complements the multiplicity of structural impediments that reinforce such economic problems and inequalities.

Anne Dalke's picture

I, too,

found HH's talk sobering and bracing. I'll be curious to hear what happened in her meeting @ Women's Way, and what your co-workers there learned/took away from/contributed to the encounter.

* my moments from her visit (some from my class, some from the talk...):

--What drew you to economics? "Being poor: I wanted to know why some people were and some weren't."

--"We could work on women's issues, if we knew what a woman was," vs.
"What a woman is, is not problematic. It's earning 77 cents on the dollar."

--"I consider myself a radical...[doing liberal work]...this is not about changing the world."
[cf. David Karen, who *still* teaches her 1976 socialist essay,
"Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex," asking
" how would you articulate that argument, to reflect this [more current] data?"

--"I’ve become a Washington creature, coaching arguments differently":
cf. "The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism" (1981) w/ her current focus on capitalism:
"I underestimated then that new economic incentives could challenge the patriarchy;
there are more women working now, and it's easier to get change in the labor market"
(then things will change domestically? hmm....)

--"ask yourself: where do you expect the direction of change to come from?
how do you want to focus your time and energy?"

--"women can have it all...if we arrange social instutitions to get what we want"
[but this does not get us an ecologically sustainable growth rate...]

Perhaps most striking to me was her move from the socialist feminist positions of her early papers to her now much more social Democratic/liberal positioning within capitalist structures, a belief that working for more equity within the labor market will lead, eventually, to changes in patriarchial familial structures...

what do you think of that approach?

carolyn.j's picture

"Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict"

Hartmann, Heidi.  “Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict.”  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 596 (2004): 226-231.  Web.    

 

Heidi Hartmann’s brief article, “Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict,” addresses women’s increasing participation in the labor market accompanied by their continuing high levels of periods of time taken off from work.  Hartmann notes five broad reasons that offer explanations for why women might choose to stay home, and then details five potential policy solutions to rectifying women’s unequal engagement in the labor market.  Finally, she offers one last strategy “for bringing about a more equitable division of labor between the sexes” (230). 

The issue area being discussed here by Hartmann is very closely related to one of my organization’s main issue areas: women’s economic self-sufficiency.  As such, going through the outlined policy solutions led me to consider which strategy my organization has most closely followed in its own pursuit of equitable financial situations.  The first three strategies can be easily dismissed as not matching the goals we seek:

1)   “status quo or no change” (228).  We and the larger women’s movement we are involved in recognize that women’s connection with the labor market is problematic and needs to be addressed. 

2)   “women could become more like men” (228).  While we certainly support women’s right to engage in the labor market on equal footing with men, we don’t pursue replication of status as a solution.

3)   “men could become more like women” (229).  Similarly, while opening social space for expectations that men have responsibilities in the same areas as women – child care, for instance – is important, the modern women’s movement tends to acknowledge that such a goal is in ways superficial and insufficient.

The second two strategies, though, are far more representative of my organization’s approach. 

4)   “women’s economic behavior could remain different from men’s and society could compensate women better for their time spent in child rearing and family care” (229).   Given that our focus is on lower-income women and their access to assistance from the state, my organization focuses far more on ways that society and institutions can compensate for the particular difficulties faced by women, there is a clear sympathy with this approach. 

5)   “we could adjust our social and economic institutions to be more compatible with caring by both men and women” (229).  I believe that my organization’s ideology would have it side with such a strategy; but given our particular focus area within the very broad issue area of women and labor, it remains that our actual methods do align more with #4.

I don’t believe that social compensation is enough, or even ultimately the right solution.  Rather, I see it to be a necessary stop-gap institutional measure, to be put in place alongside the social and cultural changes proposed by #5.  At the same time, though, I understand why the organization cannot necessarily pursue both with the same intensity.  Given that our energy is divided among a number of different issue areas, there is a limit to what we can devote to pursuing any given one.  Which is perhaps a concern – if we tackle an issue, should we take care to be absolutely comprehensive; or is it enough to know that we are doing as much as we can, and other organizations will tend towards the areas we neglect?

Anne Dalke's picture

i'm very grateful

...that you dug out these various articles, Carolyn--I found them very useful both in my own preparation and in discussing Heidi's work with my class on Critical Feminist Studies. What struck me most in this one was its opening claim, about the "wasted societal investment" of highly educated women stepping out of the labor market--such a valorization of productivity! (There are other values!...though when I suggested this to Heidi, she seemed puzzled by the world I live in....)

My favorite line of all time is list of alternate (and increasingly critical)
labels she gives to category of "husband career spillover":
"husband exemption, husband inflexibility, husband power, male power, patriarchy" (!).

But, actually?--most interesting to me here is Heidi's focus on/attempt to intervene in the
"increased cultural support for ever rising standards of ever more intensive parenting,"
by campaigning against the double standard in parenting, supporting sharing caring labor.
We talked about this over dinner after her talk, and I'd like to talk with you about it some more...
it is a very resonant idea for me....

carolyn.j's picture

Bringing Together Feminist Theory and Practice

Hartmann, Heidi, Ellen Bravo, Charlotte Bunch, Nancy Harsock, Roberta Spalter-Roth, Linda Williams and Maria Blanco.  “Bringing Together Feminist Theory and Practice: A Collective Interview.”  Signs 21.4 (1996): 917-951.  Web.

 

This transcription of an interview hosted by Hartmann and conducted among a selection of prominent feminist academics and activists initiated a dialogue regarding the current nature of the so-called women’s movement, and how academic feminist theory was being and could be used to inform feminist practice.  Consideration of these themes ranged across a number of questions and topics, such as diversity and commonalities within the women’s movement – with most participants agreeing that there was no single women’s movement that could be, or even should be, identified – defining feminist theory, and examinations of feminist organizing.  Finally, the group offered some proposals for moving forward toward a goal of approaching and engaging feminist theory in such a way that makes it actually useful for feminist practice and activism.

Of the readings I have done so far this semester, this one most clearly appeals to what I am attempting to explore through this Praxis project.  In addition, there were parts of the reading that I found myself able to relate to very strongly, both in the context of considering my organization but also on the more personal level of how I think about and engage with feminist theory.  It is important to note that this interview is from 1996 – and as such potentially very much outdated in a variety of respects – but nonetheless it raises some salient points that are still relevant; and what it reveals of how the movement has changed is also worth considering. 

In discussing the women’s movement, many of the participants expressed concern that while the movement may not be dead, it is potentially detrimentally fragmented, and also that it runs the risk of becoming less politically meaningful if it follows the trend of becoming so integrated into social life – and no longer concertedly in the political arena – that it becomes unnoticed and as such unable to prompt greater change.  From what I have observed of the practice of my particular organization, it seems that women’s organizations are to a large degree conscious of the divisions among themselves and the communities they serve.  Furthermore, this is acknowledged in the targeting of specific groups that may need certain support than others – for instance, the lecture I attended at the Harrisburg conference on working with immigrants, lower-class, and minority women as particularly vulnerable populations – while also convening coalitions of organizations in order to work toward goals that will benefit all women while allowing individual organizations to serve the needs of their particular communities.  There will always be work to be done regarding managing our differences while also working as a common group – much as Arendt talked about regarding agonism – but my experience with my own organization has demonstrated a contemporary awareness of that need. 

I found the comment regarding the risk of depoliticization due to pervasive social awareness interesting, though.  On a personal level I can see how that may be the case; I make a concerted personal choice to be informed largely by feminist news, circles, and discourse that it almost becomes unremarkable, and as a result potentially less mobilizing as it forms a backdrop to my daily life.  As a counter thought, though, it seems in keeping with feminist theory to allow that kind of integration to inform a more feminist life and, as such, ultimately actions.

Organizationally, this can be seen as feminist organizations being included in mainstream institutions out of obligation– such that their inclusion suffices for addressing women’s issues, without considering the wider structural changes that feminism calls for.  This is a positive step for inclusion, but a negative one insofar as it demonstrates cooption instead of continued transformation.           

The somewhat related danger of professionalization was also brought up, which is a danger for any advocate community.  To some degree it is a necessary evil: advocacy in such a large, complex world requires significant time commitment and resources (though this is not to devalue grassroots advocacy that may have little to no experience or resources), and so professionalization is somewhat inevitable.  If we accept that, though, advocates must be even more vigilant in ensuring that they are honest to the communities they are seeking to assist.  The risk of isolation from the community as an isolated bubble of well-intentioned advocates is a theme I have touched on multiple times this semester.

Especially exciting to read, though, was one speaker’s account of

“a student who has been immersed in this theory comes to work in our office where we are organizing women to utilize and confront global policy systems like the UN.  She immediately starts to question how anybody can speak for women, but the question totally immobilizes her.  The theory has conditioned the student to feel that she cannot have a voice.  She is afraid that if she speaks, she will be accused of speaking for or ignoring somebody else.  The theory has important truth in it, but it has become immobilizing because it has not been done in conjunction with practice.” (932-933)

This story so accurately describes how I have felt reading and feminist theory and attempting to practice it, and is in large part the motivation for structuring my Praxis the way I have.  The group sees a variety of solutions for this dilemma, including increased dialogue between academics and activists, acknowledging the diversity of theory while also constructing a baseline goal for the women’s movement, and revisiting the notion of “being a one-woman coalition: any woman who speaks ought to incorporate in herself as many parts of women’s experience as she has been able to understand, so that when she does have the space to speak, she can speak to issues that go beyond just her own experience” (935-936).

Taken all together, Hartmann’s group interview isolated, deconstructed, and proposed solutions for many of the issues I have stumbled across both before and during my Praxis experience.  Relating so clearly to the material addressed in this reading was both incredibly comforting and hopeful, as it offered some measure of tangible solutions to the challenges I have come up against.  And given that this conversation happened in 1996, there is also the hope that this dialogue has been continued over the years, and further developed and expanded upon.

Anne Dalke's picture

any chance

...you might have encountered the work of Marilyn Waring? what interests me is the way she moved from the sort of work Heidi Hartmann does to a critique of economic measures.

Waring started out trying to assign value to traditional women's work-->
by calculating the labor of women, she was proclaiming their visibility and worth,
reconceptualizing the household not as a consuming unit, but as a productive one;
measuring economic welfare by what actually contributes to the welfare of us all--
although subsistence production had been seen, macroeconomically, as of little or no importance,
recording the time-use of women (vs. men) revealed the magnitude of women's invisible work:
unpaid work, including reproducing human life, or feeding and nurturing one's own families,
had not "counted "in the conventional measures, and Waring's project was to make such reproduction visible,
to empower women by giving their work a monetary value.

In arguing that the conventional labour market surveys were too narrowly conceived, 
Waring also claimed that they asked the wrong questions: we should ask what economy is for,
how much is enough, what provides joy, happiness, peace, satisfaction...

but she eventually decided that this work of pressing
non-economic values into framework of economic calculus
was always dependent on the values of a participant observer,
and was based on the absurb premise that everything has a price
"uni-dimensional economical fabrication cannot contain our lives,"
she argued, and economics doesn't allow for the introduction of values
that don't find their way into an economic formula.
Waring asked what the "cost" is of visibility in patently pathological value system:
do we want all life commodified in economic model?

HH's work, however, has been explicitly engaged, for decades, in that model,
and her visit showed me that I did have a lot to learn from the work she has been doing,
in particular about the relation (large gap?) between the sort of theoretical questions
we have been asking, and the sort of practice she engages in...

I was particularly interested in this "collective interview" (and thank you again, Carolyn, for finding it).
Here are my reading notes; I hope we can talk through some of them:

“My background in these issues probably starts with growing up poor to a single mother and going to an elite college, Swarthmore, where there were a lot of new Left activities...I didn't get involved in the women's movement until 1969 when I went to gradaute school in economics at Yale. New Haven Women's Liberation was....very much a socialist feminist group...a strong atmosphere of activism...helped me understand that what I was learning in school could actually be useful to women. A heady feeling....Then in 1987, I founded IWPR [Institute for Women's Policy Research].

Although I have written a couple of articles that are well known in socialist feminist theory, I moved into the public policy world soon after getting my Ph.D. I have worked primarily on women's employment and related issues...I am primarily a practitioner in the policy research context. I do not read much theory....'Who reads Signs anymore?'

Maybe professionalization affects what we label as feminist theory. In the old days, we might have called all of the feminist analysis done by activists feminist theory....

[Charlotte Bunch: I do not like the expression the women's movement. Instead, I often talk about women in movement....]

The frustration that we have had at IWPR is that...econmic issues do not seem to get the same priority and visibility...the center of the women's movement is the abortion rights marches...held around court decisions.

[Charlotte Bunch: they are the issues that the social structure is the most resistant ot changing...]

...what a struggle it is just to try to get some unity of identity and purpose among groups based in Washington, D.C. who self-identify as women's groups....We just disappear into the fabric of society.

[Charlotte Bunch: theory about difference can...form a new basis of solidarity [but] has conditioned the student to feel that she cannot have a voice....it has become immobilizing because it has not been done in conjunction with practice....

Roberta Spalter-Roth: it is a good thing to question whether i have the right to speak....to value this process of questioning...self-criticism, humility, and sensitivity to others..]

We had a meeting of the CEOs of some of the Washington-based women's groups who were focusing...on economic issues....The groups that were the better heeled were the least interested in cooperating...it was almost as if the leaders of these larger organizations were saying, "The working women of America? Wait a minute, I am on the way to the White House, puhleeze." So maybe...it would be better if there were more humility among all of these groups in terms of whom they think they speak for and what they should be doing.

[Charlotte Bunch: although separatism is a very good way to learn about your difference and shape your identity, it does not empower you over time. Ultimately, you can become so isolated that you are disempowered ....
Understanding that whenever you speak, you speak from who you are is basic. Nonetheless, each of us needs to try to incorporate as broad a range of understanding of others women's experiences as we possibily can...to speak to issues that go beyond just [our] own experiences. This requires knowing the difference between solidarity speaking, coalition speaking, and claiming or co-opting others' lives.]

IWPR is saying, "We specialize in policy research. Since some of you are in academia and some of you are policy activists, we will be the bridge"....feminist theory should include work...on the different streams of public benefits: the male stream, which tends to be better heeled, and the women's stream, which tends to be less well heeled....we are public policy advocates look to social science rather than the humanities for our theory.... feminist theory is valuable for practitioners insofar as it speak to them [but also responds to problems that they have raised].

We are much more apt, both in practice and theory, to study problems faced by women in other countries, without focusing on why the United States is the leader in pushing these poliicies and what U.S. women can do to improve U.S. policy. For example, what problems are caused by the International Monetary Fund structural adjustmetn programs, and what is the role of the United States in implementing these policies?

We have tried to use international precedent to strengthen our policy arguments... on equal pay for work of equal value ...and comparable worth systems....what can we learn from people in other countries...

We re getting some recommendations out of our collective interviews...enlarge what counts as theory...There is a moral certainty acquired from having a theoretical basis for your action that does give you strength as a political movement...before we create an agenda we need to define principles of femnism....we could develop a manifesto....create structural space for activists to write....broaden the definition of what counts within universities...diversify the formats in which we produce and dissemminate our feminist theories....give money to the causes and organizations you believe in.

carolyn.j's picture

The Human Condition, Chapter V

Arendt, Hannah.  The Human Condition.  2nd ed.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.  175-212.  Print. 

Motivated by my readings from earlier in the semester, this week I chose to read Hannah Arendt as a primary source.  The piece of Chapter V that I read from The Human Condition primarily addressed Arendt’s conceptualization of “aleritas” and the crucial intersection of speech and action as ways of engaging in society and creating power.  By her definition, “aleritas” is the quality of otherness possessed by all persons (176).  In following with that, Arendt argues that speaking and acting allow individuals to distinguish themselves in the world, as members of the common human community but also as individual and unique.  This becomes especially key as individuals are always in relation to each other – they cannot act in isolation, and any given individual is always both a “doer” [of actions] and a “sufferer” [of others’ actions] (190).  Furthermore, given the relational aspect of individuals’ actions, actions are only real and meaningful insofar as they are undertaken as with  a community, as opposed to simply for or against another group (188).

Arendt’s work is, unsurprisingly, less clearly and immediately applicable to my work – especially compared to the previous week’s readings.  However, her message regarding the reality of individuality balanced with the equal reality of relationality is very much reminiscent of feminist thought, and her arguments regarding operating with a group as opposed to for or against one are striking.  Just as I have commented previously on the importance of advocating with a group for the purpose of maintaining both that group’s agency and honesty and legitimacy of mission, Arendt’s comments about working with a group are an important reminder of how simply positioning oneself on the side of an issue makes action lose meaning.  Instead, for actions to gain real power and legitimacy, they must be situated in group action and communication.  This is something I see very much embodied by my organization, as it attempts to engage with the communities it serves while still advocating for specific outcomes. 

This is further reinforced by Arendt’s observation that tyranny is the political system that emerges from a ruler’s isolation from their subjects and the subjects isolation from each other.  I worry about the degree to which we as Americans can be isolated from our government – government bureaucracy and institutional pathologies can be difficult to penetrate, and true representation of the populations’ needs is extremely difficult to capture in a structurally unequal system – but at least as advocacy organizations we can take specific steps to ensure that we as citizens connect with each other.  And this allows us to work together as a community – something addressed by both Naples and Howe – and further to rectify what barriers exist between ourselves and our governing institutions. 

Anne Dalke's picture

unknowability

this posting puts me in mind of another, made by a student of mine when Judy Butler was here, citing Arendt:
Diffracting butler and Arendt through Incan Astronomy suggests that "we appear to others in ways that we do not know, and are politically constituted by perspectives unbeknownst to us." I'd like to explore further with you the political and activist implications of this notion of unknowability...

carolyn.j's picture

"Gender, Race, and Community Activism"

Howe, Carolyn.  "Gender, Race, and Community Activism: Competing Strategies in the Struggle for Public Education."  Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class and Gender.  Ed. Nancy A. Naples.  New York: Routledge, 1998.  237-254.  Print.

 

Carolyn Howe’s essay provides an analysis of two different strategies taken by a local community to address challenges facing the school system.  The first strategy was one adopted by a group represetntative of normative politics and organizing, composed of socially dominant groups.  This strategy focused on winning endorsements from key community figures and contacting sympathetic voters.  Contrasted to this was the group of women and minorities, which adopted a strategy of organizing based on networking – through the schools and the various communities that intersected with – and then educating and mobilizing those networks of people. 

By Howe’s analysis, these two strategies mutually reinforced each other – and did result in victory – but ultimately the second strategy was subsumed by the first.  What’s more, the two strategies were crucially different in that the first relied on solving a problem while reinforcing the system that had produce it, while the second strategy offered an avenue for challenging the problematic structure of the system itself while also campaigning for resolution of the particular issue at hand. 

In this way, Howe’s essay touches on an issue similarly discussed in Naples’ piece – the value of community- and network-based organizing as embodying strategies that not only confront the problem at hand, but also seek to challenge and reform the structures and institutions that produced the problem.  In this sense, I find it encouraging that my organization’s ideology and methodology very clearly aligns with those of the second group’s in Howe’s analysis.  We focus on educating and mobilizing networks of people; and while we do not necessarily explicitly challenge the state structures opposing us, our methods of engaging the community are such that we facilitate more community activism and some degree of non-institutional thinking. 

Anne Dalke's picture

wanting to go on talking

...here, too. I thought I'd gotten a very clear report from you that the orientation of your organization was very much 1st wave/accomodationist, very little 2nd wave/challenging of the status quo....I'd like to hear more about the "non-institutional thinking" you reference here....

carolyn.j's picture

"Women's Community Activism"

Naples, Nancy.  "Women's Community Activism: Exploring the Dynamics of Politicization and Diversity."  Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class and Gender.  Ed. Nancy A. Naples.  New York: Routledge, 1998.  327-349.  Print.

 

Nancy Naples’ essay offers an analysis of how power dynamics and institutional practices reproduce gender, race, and class inequalities, and how the dynamics of community facilitate action in response.  By Naples’ account, community activism is generally prompted by one or more of three contexts: struggles against violence and for social justice and economic security, casual interactions with people who share experience, and external pressures (337).  This is part of the state’s reproduction of inequality in that the state plays out the interests of dominant social groups, and the actions or inactions of government agencies and officials that this leads to tend to be the starting point for community action/reaction.  In so far as these actions or inactions by the state perpetuate inequalities, the community responses they prompt provide avenues for challenging these reproductions (343).  Furthermore, the development of community organizations as part of this process facilitates the emergence of activists and legitimates community demands; at the same time, though, ideological and material barriers discourage women from getting involved as activists (344-345).

Naples’ essay is concerned with grassroots communities; and while my organization is certainly concerned with those communities, it’s interesting to note its applications to my organization as a community of advocates, which is in turn part of an even larger community of the same.  And while my organization did originally grow out of organizations that were themselves formed in ways similar to that which Naples describes – communities motivated into advocacy for a variety of pressing reasons – my organization particularly has grown out of a distinct community of regional activists, all motivated and responding to the pressures Naples describes. 

In some ways I don’t think this is significant, in that in all events my organization is responding to government actions and inactions that necessitate a reaction, and as such acts in such a way that is consistent with the needs and desires of the local communities it serves.  At the same time, because at times we exist in such a distinct community of advocates, I wonder if we ever isolate ourselves within that bubble and in some ways lose touch with the variety of ways issues can be handled.  This is especially so given Naples’ focus on how community-based advocacy opens space to challenge the inequalities that government policies perpetuate.  By distancing ourselves in some ways from the community (not always, but certainly to a degree), do we risk losing those opportunities for innovation of the system, versus simply solving problems while maintaining the system.  A similar question is brought up by the other reading I did for this week, addressed in the next post.

Anne Dalke's picture

so

let's talk about "reactive"--which I think in social work is a negative term (vs....what? what's the alternative?)

carolyn.j's picture

Arendt, Foucault, and Feminist Politics: A Critical Reappraisal

Taylor, Diana.  “Arendt, Foucault, and Feminist Politics: A Critical Reappraisal.”  Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference, and Agency.  Ed. Deborah Orr, Dianna Taylor, Eileen Kahl, Kathleen Earle, Christa Rainwater, and Linda López McAlister.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.  243-263.  Print.

Taylor’s essay addresses the contributions to feminist theory made by Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault; specifically, she focuses on three key ideas from the two theorists.  First is Arendt’s concept of agonism, which she describes as how acting in concert with others allows individuals to distinguish themselves, such that there is recognition that groups can come together in unity while still recognizing differences amongst themselves.  Second is Foucault’s definition of creativity, qualified in his writing as connected to innovation, wherein we seek out in our reflection those things that have never been conceived of before, and in so doing the practices of thinking differently and actively engaging are developed.  Finally, both authors have a similar arguments regarding identity, such that they embrace the value of identity but reject it as a foundation for politics.

The combined contribution of Arendt and Foucault’s work to feminist theory appeal directly both to themes that I have been considering with regard to my work currently, as well as more broadly to concerns I have had regarding doing any work in advocacy.  As I have mentioned previously, I struggle to find my place in advocacy work given concerns about the legitimacy of my participation – that is, I can advocate with women as a woman, but the intersectionality of oppression is such that I am often an outsider to the struggles of many people, women or otherwise.  This is hardly a unique thought – much of modern feminist theory is concerned with this dynamic – but so far I still constantly question how I can be involved.  Because I really want to be involved. 

These concerns are easily and necessarily extended outward to the organizations I work with, as is the case currently.  Right now, I think my organization has taken approaches I would agree with, trying to ensure that it represents and serves the interests of our particular communities to the best of its ability.  Now, considering its ideology and methodology with regard to Arendt’s agonism is actually further encouraging.  Recognizing our ability to come together in unified action while simultaneously acknowledging and in many ways reconstituting important differences among ourselves strikes a balance between our desire to help and the need at times to step back. 

Arendt also had an interesting statement regarding what she termed “the lesser evil,” the crux of which was that choosing what appeared to be the lesser evil in a given situation was still a capitulation to the institutions in which any moderately traditional actor naturally functions in.  Instead of this, Arendt argues that actors need to think outside their socially constructed reality and conceive of other choices and paths.  In my time at the organization I have seen instances of this kind of choice many times over: with some individual organizations’ inability to discuss abortion (discussed in my response from 9/30) to the opposite situation where a coalition conceded to a difficult compromise while its members made statements against the document it was accepting (discussed in my response from 10/21).  By Arendt’s theory, there were more options and paths in each of these situations than were considered; but they were not happened upon because they exist outside the normal structure of thought and action. 

Taking this argument along with Foucault’s creativity, I see the potential for the more radical activism I would like to be learning about and engaging in.  In so many ways, both advocacy and direct service organizations must capitulate to institutions in order to foster necessary change in the short- and medium-runs.  However, from an ideological standpoint I object to the ways in which such a decision reinforces those same institutions that have created and maintained the problems our organizations face.  As such, I would like to explore counter-institutional advocacy.  And while I may find such work in more radical organizations, from Arendt and Foucault’s work it also seems like there are openings for more moderate organizations to successfully adopt radical practices.  This is something that has been reinforced by me readings from Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, and is something I would like to explore further in Arendt’s work and others from more modern times.

Anne Dalke's picture

intersectionality

yes, let's talk about this...
"I can advocate with women as a woman, but the intersectionality of oppression is such that I am often an outsider to the struggles of many people..." I want to tell you about Eli Clare's take on intersectionality in Exile and Pride, and also the discussion about radical teaching in our prison book group (can one do radical Teaching Inside Carceral Institutions.??)

carolyn.j's picture

Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, Chapters 1 & 2

Weedon, Chris.  Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory.  2nd ed.  Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1997.  Print.

I began my readings for 10/7/2013 searching for various works by Hannah Arendt; after reading the analysis of her and Foucault the previous week, I was hoping to gain some further insight by reading some of her work first hand (I have already read a few pieces by Foucault).  However, what I ended up with from what I could find of hers available to me, and with little guidance as to what work would be most helpful (something I plan to reconsult the previous text about), what I ended up with was interesting but only barely relevant to what I'm pursuing here.  As such, I switched over to Chris Weedon's book, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, and while it is not as directly connected to the work I did that week, it has been very elucidating in my larger goal of understanding the integration of feminist theory into political practice. 

The first two chapters of Weedon's book (what I got through for this week) address the need to formulate a theory that can account for the relationship between experience, social power, and resistance - something Weedon argues that the political lens of poststructuralism is well positioned to do.  Setting up feminism as a theory rooted in political movement, Weedon poses poststructuralism as a necessary additional lens to hold on feminism as politics and the need for tangible results that that requires, and mobilize a combined theory of feminist poststructuralism to develop a strategy of change to serve feminist interests.

In establishing the relevancy of poststructuralism to feminism, Weedon lays out the key principles of poststructural theory: language, Marxism, subjectivity and discourse.  Combining these conceptual elements with a feminist lens, then, produces a feminist poststructuralism that "is a mode of knowledge production which uses poststructuralist theories...to understand existing power relations and to identify areas and strategies for change" (40). 

While not necessarily directly applicable to my work at the level of my daily responsibilities, Weedon's union of feminist theory and the more concertedly politically-oriented poststructuralist theory appeals to the larger vision of the theoretical work I am pursuing alongside my time at the office.  At this stage of the book the discussion is still heavily philosophical and introductory, such that it is still somewhat difficult to usefully apply it to my organization's ideology and methodology.  However, the later sections of the book should become more application-oriented; as such, my intention is to continue my reading of Weedon's book alongside next week's reading, and hopefully then be able to consider my work and the organization through the lens of Weedon's feminist poststructuralism.

Anne Dalke's picture

we seem to have lost

(did you forget to "save"?) your notations on Arendt and Foucault...can you replicate them? (this is part of my general nudge for a fuller archive than you've been supplying so far...). and i'm a little clueless here so far re: just how this politically-oriented poststructuralist theory appeals to the larger vision of the theoretical work you're pursuing...waiting breathlessly!

carolyn.j's picture

"Place, Movement, and Identity: Rethinking Empowerment"

Miller, Marjorie C.  "Place, Movement, and Identity: Rethinking Empowerment."  Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference, and Agency.  Ed. Deborah Orr, Dianna Taylor, Eileen Kahl, Kathleen Earle, Christa Rainwater, and Linda López McAlister.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.  173-183.  Print.

Miller's essay connects empowerment as related to identity, and identity related to a place - physical, social, etc.  Given such a tie to place, identity's interaction with empowerment is such that it is construed as a movement, wherein an identity metaphorically moves its location from the periphery to the center of social understanding.  Yet this becomes problematic, because as more groups self-identity and move to the center, group identities become more and more narrow, such that some new group is always excluded and left on the periphery. 

In contrast to this Miller addresses the postmodern/poststructuralist understanding of identity, that holds identity not as fiexed but rather performed and entirely subjective.  This does not satisfy Miller either; she critiques it as unproductively apolitical for its denial of an identity group's capacity to seek social empowerment through movement to the center.  Instead, Miller argues that identity should be conceived of in terms of "situation" over "location," because a situationally constructed identity reinforces intersectionality and interplay of group identity, while still allowing movement and empowerment of any individual group.

Miller's initial synopsis of how identity is constructed locationally was, for me, and important explicit articulation of a phenomenon I had seen and accepted but never put words to.  Similarly, contrasting that with the poststructuralist concept of performative identity was useful.  I agree and have many sympathies with poststructural theories, but had not considered how it intersected with identity politics in this way.  I still agree in many ways that identity is performative and subjective; but at the same time Miller has much cause to be calling postmodernists out on the apolitical nature of their approach.  For all that their position on what identity is may make sense and can be agreed upon, it remains that identity (as with everything, really) necessarily is/becomes political, and as such we need a way to conceptualize it such that it can be utilized in an effective political matter.  To this end, Miller's fusion of locational and performative identity is an important argument to consider when working within identity-driven or identity-related politics.

Anne Dalke's picture

as below

...how do these notions of locational and performative identity play out @ Women's Way? what are the connections between the theory you're reading and your praxis? how does the first "translate"? (or fail to?) into the second?

carolyn.j's picture

Half the Sky

Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn.  Half the Sky.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.  Print.

Kristof and WuDunn's book seeks to explore the nature of the oppression of women in a variety of global contexts.  This is done primarily by using personal stories - gathered through interviews - as vehicles for displaying the reality of gendered abuse and inequalities.  For the amount I read the book - which, as a disclaimer, I did not finish - this was the bulk of what was presented.  There were some number of suggestions for what could be done to resolve these situations, but what I read was mostly concerned with presenting the bare reality of what was happening.

I went into this book expecting to dislike it.  Just on the bare face of it, it is a book about female oppression in a number of different cultural contexts being  written by a white American man.  And while his wife also contributed to the book and has a different personal context, it remains that my exposure to the book and the impression I got from reading it was that he is credited far more for its creation.  As such, from the very beginning there should be a number of concerns regarding Kristof's ability to and legitimacy in conveying this particular message. Yet as I went through the chapters, I found far fewer sources of ire and frustration than I had expected.  Kristof took care to frequently emphasize the agency and humanity of all the women he worked with, as well as make clear that they were - and should be - the dominant makers of change and reform in their lives and societies. 

At the same time, my problems with the dynamics of the author versus his subject remained.  And to that end, the whole work remains problematic in my view, if not as much so as I initially expected.  First off, there is only so much Kristof can propose be done to resolve the crisis of global female oppression as an outside voice.  For all that publicization of these stories is important for increased global understanding of what the lives of women are like, Kristof's call to aid necessarily straddles the line between genuine sympathy and white savior problem-solving.  Even when writing enthusiastically about the positive work being done by an American school in Cambodia - wherein a school from Seattle raised funds to build a school in Cambodia, and actively maintains a relationship with it through a yearly trip that the American students take to the Cambodian school - it remains that the connections Kristof sites and the attempts to generate a genuine relationship between the school are just that - attempts. 

For all the good will and conversation in the world, the situations Kristof presents will always bear the reality of a Western actor entering a situation and endeavoring to change it "for the better."  But also convincing in this debate is the reminder of humanitarian necessity: even acknowledging cultural difference and sensitivity, how does one remain respectful and non-obtrusive while also reconciling an ethical need to contribute positive change to a situation that seems morally unacceptable? 

In this respect, reading Teju Cole's article in The Atlantic, "The White-Savior Industrial Complex," was extremely helpful in articulating my critique of Kristof's work.  Cole acknowledges that humanitarian debate, commenting the "there is an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can," but also that it is ultimately more crucial to recognize where we lack the legitimacy to act without asserting our own privilige and outsider status (intentionally or otherwise).  Unlike Kirstof's compromise, in which Western actors are encouraged to be educated and engaged but still act as donors and saviors (my words, not his), Cole proposes the final solution that the best way for outside actors to become involved in situations of global oppression is to channel their energies into changing their own country's actions and foreign policy.  While such a direction for one's action may feel less effective to immediately remedying the situation, it's work that has to be done, and is carreid out in a way that does not perpetuate some of the same problems of global privilege that Kristof's would.

Anne Dalke's picture

i'd like to hear

...your thoughts on how this humanitarian orientation intersects w/ the work of Women's Way--doing more work of bridging between your annotated bibliography and your descriptions of your work @ the organization.

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