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Book Reviews were at the heart of an anguished, earnest, and lively discourse that began before 1837 and has continued long after 1883. LuAnne Clark Holladay Indiana University Feminist Theory Chris Weedon. Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987. 187 pp. $30.00 Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell, eds. Feminism as Critique: On the Politics of Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. 193 pp. Paper $14.95 THESE TWO BOOKS TAKEN TOGETHER provide an interesting basis for understanding current trends in feminist theory, particularly in feminist theory with a materialist bent. Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell have collected a group of essays notable for their clarity which address various strands of twentieth-century Marxism and social criticism, from the thought of Jürgen Habermas to Simone de Beauvoir to Michel Foucault. Benhabib and Cornell argue for a "displacement of the paradigm of production," a shift in the understanding of Marxism when it is confronted by questions of sex and gender. Similarly, in her very accessible introduction to a feminist poststructuralism, Chris Weedon rethinks socialist feminism and literary criticism in light of Michel Foucault's work on discourse and power. Weedon's Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory introduces poststructuralism to a general audience of educated readers and develops a position for rethinking feminist criticism of both elite and popular literature. While a reader outside of academe may find even her lucid explanations conceptually difficult, Weedon's work will be useful for those who are unacquainted with contemporary theory; it provides a useful introduction to poststructuralism from a feminist point of view for undergraduate students and for graduate students who have done little work in feminist theory. Particularly engaging are Weedon's many illustrations of her arguments with examples from popular culture and advertising. Her social observations can be trenchant, as for example when she argues that the marginalization of popular fiction in schools and universities "helps to further the myth that it is pure entertainment, a condition conducive to its ideological work." Weedon consistently establishes the relevance of her argu515 ELT: Volume 33:4 1990 ments for issues ordinarily confronting working class or middle class women, and she is particularly sensitive to the multiplicity of women's interests and situations. This theoretical stance and mode of presentation stem from Weedon's politics. She argues strongly that a politics is always prior to choice of theory, even if political premises are unacknowledged. Weedon is not happy with the position that all theory is necessarily patriarchal; nor does she look for a totalizing theory of patriarchy. Rather, she conceives of theory as a basis enabling strategies for change. Weedon criticizes liberal feminism as politically naive and insufficient, and she views radical or separatist feminism as essentialist ; she allies herself with and suggests a significant revision of socialist theory. She would agree with the editors of Feminism as Critique that a socialist feminism cannot take capital-labor relations as determining in the last instance. Like Linda Nicholson in Feminism as Critique and like many other socialist feminists, Weedon argues for a criticism of culture and society that takes equal account of gender, class, race, and—for Weedon—other crucial factors such as religion. Weedon builds her notion of feminist practice on poststructuralist notions of ideology, on the decentering of the subject in recent psychoanalysis, and on notions of language as constitutive of subjectivity . She proposes a strategic feminism in which women and men negotiate various subject positions and use the conflict among them as leverage for social critique and social change. In this notion Weedon relies heavily on Foucault's definition of discourse without attempting, as irrelevant to her project here, a critique of Foucault from a feminist perspective. In Weedon's view, social change is possible through the conflict among discourses. Weedon's strategic feminism leaves to a sort of feminist faith the grounding of two problematic premises that I would call the problems of agency and of utopia. The first is inherent in her debt to Foucault and to Louis Althusser. Weedon would accede neither to an economic nor to an Althusserian determinism—the individual is active if not "sovereign." Indeed Weedon has faith that as the individual...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 515-518
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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