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Anne Dalke's picture

A crisis in reason--at Bryn Mawr?

I want to archive here--for my own use, and for whatever use it might be to others (including Liz and Rebecca, who weren't with us today), our conversation this morning about the "crisis in reason." We identified that crisis as an increasingly widespread acknowledgement of the particularity of knowledge, and we saw Elizabeth Grosz and Sandra Harding as offering two very different responses to that crisis.

Having traced its intellectual history from Hegel's "master/slave" dicotomy through Marx's thinking out from the condition of the proletariat, Grosz says "amen": let's just accept the partiality of bodily difference--and offers the work of French feminist Irigaray, which centers on the sexed body of woman as both subject and object, as exemplum for this kind of work. Harding goes for something much more all-encompassing; she offers a "standpoint epistemology" that starts from "the bottom up," from marginalized lives, as a way of constructing both strong reflexivity and strong objectivity.

After we voiced our objections to the kinds of language used by both these theorists (especially Grosz--what sort of feminism uses language that most women can't follow??) we settled into particulars: looking at the descriptions, in the Bryn Mawr course catalogue, of the departments of anthropology, biology, psychology and physics, and the program in gender and sexuality. We asked whether each of them acknowledged

1) the crisis of reason/the partiality of knowledges

2) the sexed bodies of women (per Grosz)

3) the lives of the marginalized and oppressed (per Harding).

We turned finally to the College's mission statement, which is remarkably spare in its mention of "women" (the word occurs once). The ultimate question, of course, was not what Grosz or Harding think of these various public descriptions of what we are doing here, but what each of us thinks, and how each of us might re-write these statements to reflect our own sense of feminist inquiry.


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