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Hypatia 15.2 (2000) 18-25

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Connections *

Judy Purdom


Feminism is marked by a pragmatic concern with the position of women, with rights and equality, and with representation. The papers in this section of the volume investigate the philosophical thinking that informs that representation, and thus, they work at the intersection of the philosophical, the political, and the social. The feminist demand for recognition has exposed an institutional misogyny in political and social structures and provided a useful critique of the way in which the hierarchical binary woman/man is embedded in structures of thought, language, and discourse. It is not surprising then that "feminism" and "philosophy" do not always sit easily together; however, as these papers demonstrate, that troublesome relationship can go beyond a complaint about masculinist norms and structures. The question is, "Are there alternative ways of thinking about issues of equality and difference?" The challenge to think "otherwise" and to produce new ways to think about political and social constitution is taken up by Genevieve Lloyd, Moira Gatens, and Claire Colebrook.

What links the three authors is their common concern to rethink the connections between the philosophical, the political, and the social, and to open up the question of feminist identity. They each pose the question of sexual difference, and, in their different ways, using different philosophical references, all problematize the logic of identity that has dominated western metaphysics--and which is implicit in philosophical, political, and social definitions of the subject. Having questioned the usefulness of that logic in addressing the specificity of women, they all go on to ask the provocative question: are there other ways of thinking "identity," models that can make sense of difference? This recognition of philosophy as a creative practice that produces new thinking about difference is what marks out this work as an original and radical contribution to feminist philosophy.

The concern with difference and specificity is a distinctive theme of recent Australian work in feminist philosophy, one that takes feminist philosophy [End Page 18] beyond epistemology and a concern to rethink representation to ontology and the question of difference. Lloyd's Spinoza and the Ethics (1996), Gatens's collection Imaginary Bodies (1996), and Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism (1994) by Elizabeth Grosz spring to mind as earlier studies which herald the exciting new work that is presented here, but what makes this particular volume so important is the focus on thinking "otherwise." These essays make the move from the logic of identity that produces a politics of exclusion to an ontology that embraces change and difference. This reconfiguration of feminism and philosophy suggests a politics quite different from the exclusionary liberalism characteristic of western democracies, including Australia. It enables a politics of inclusive sociability.

What we see played out in the philosophies of liberalism and Enlightenment is an ontological model that subordinates difference to identity. Difference is then only understood as "difference from . . . "; a relation which positions difference as "not-identical" and as "other." That polarization is reflected in the hierarchical binarism that differentiates social groups in terms of "otherness" and which sets up the white western male as the standard human being. Sexual difference is a case in point and illustrates how difference becomes essentialized as a "natural" difference which is then reflected in the stereotypical hierarchies--mind/body, woman/man, nature/culture, sex/gender, private/public--that permeate education, health, family life, religion, and so on. The inevitable stereotyping of women as a homogeneous, generic group "other" to man begs the question of heterogeneity and the substantial and specific differences of language, culture, and history. This concern with the very real differences between women demands a politics of rights and equality that embraces the complexity of connections and intersections between issues of sexual difference and of race, class, and ethnicity. As Gatens reminds us in her recent article "Sociability and Inclusion," feminism is inherently sociable (Gatens 1998). By this she means that feminism requires a politics of inclusion as opposed to the politics of exclusion that dominates modern democracies. As a counter to the "unsociable" sexed politics of modernism, which privileges an ahistorical and universal...


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pp. 18-25
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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