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  • Transformative Hospitality:A Pragmatist-Feminist Perspective of Radical Welcome as Resistance
  • Tess Varner

If nations could overcome the mutual fear and distrust whose sombre shadow is now thrown over the world, and could meet with confidence and good will to settle their possible differences, they would easily be able to establish a lasting peace.

—Fridtjof Nansen, quoted in Leach, "Fridtjof Nansen" 367

in an age of empire, hospitality is, in many ways, politically subversive—challenging dominant and prolific racist rhetoric, anti-immigrant fervor, increasing nationalism, and more. Mutual fear and distrust are now commonplace. In what follows, I explore which practices of hospitality can be resistant toward that fear and distrust, and I use a pragmatist-feminist lens to consider hospitality's potential for producing political action and creating new realities.

1. Hospitality and Feminist-Pragmatism

The language of hospitality is ubiquitous, appearing in the service and commercial tourism industries, in contemporary theology, in cultural hosting and entertainment practices, and especially right now in ongoing political discourse about refugees and immigrants; this discourse reveals palpable tensions between calls to extend hospitality to refugees and immigrants and loud cries to "build the wall."

Philosophical reflection on hospitality is also enjoying a resurgence, with thinkers like Kant, Derrida, Levinas, and Appiah most often referenced. The means of analysis are many, but the ways philosophers are engaging the concept include "phenomenologies of the stranger, the other, the foreigner, and the guest, and often [include] alertness to the ethical dimensions intrinsic to the status of the refugee, the scope of alterity, and the experience of embodiment" (Yates 515). [End Page 41]

I suggest that philosophical exploration of hospitality has an obvious home in the American pragmatist tradition, with its emphases on community, pluralism, and democracy. Whereas in liberal philosophical traditions such as those emerging from Locke or Mill, tolerance is celebrated as the organizing principle for communities, in James and Dewey and in philosophies that emerge from them, we find an openness "that both respects the differences of individuals and their communities and at the same time recognizes value in interaction with those differences" (Pratt 30). According to Scott Pratt, "[g]oing beyond tolerance, hospitality suggests that host and guests look to each other's interest and needs" (30). Dewey's understanding of hospitality is tied up with his philosophy of democratic life together:

Through mutual respect, mutual toleration, give and take, the pooling of experiences, it is ultimately the only method by which human beings can succeed in carrying on this experiment in which we are all engaged, whether we want to be or not, the greatest experiment of humanity.

(Dewey qtd. in Pratt 31)

Significantly contributing to the subject of hospitality through a distinctly pragmatist and feminist lens, Maurice Hamington draws on Addams, Peirce, and Dewey as resources to tether hospitality to feminist care ethics. Hamington calls for a renaissance in hospitality with feminism as the intellectual foundation. He writes: "The world sorely needs to rediscover the values of hospitality, albeit without oppressive power connotations" (xviii). Hamington appropriately identifies the often oppressive nature of hospitality. It is critical that we recognize the gendered assumptions and actions that the language and expectations of hospitality produce; women are historically understood to do the labor of hospitality while men are almost invariably credited as host. A pragmatist-feminist account of transformative hospitality must establish what kinds of hospitality really entail radical welcome without reinforcing gendered burdens.

Only certain kinds of hospitality can be understood as a hospitality of radical welcome and have the potential to be politically meaningful in our contemporary context. Many habits of hospitality merely reinforce our inclinations to turn inward to tight circles of like-minded friends, to gatekeep, and to preserve hegemony. Others demarcate strictly between host and guest and thereby can create or preserve problematic power structures, preserving hierarchical distinctions of "who is a cultural insider and who is an outsider, who serves and who is served, who labors and who benefits from labor, who sits at the head and who sits at the foot of the table" (Robbins and Tippen 14). [End Page 42]

Hospitality at its best, I argue, welcomes guests not as subjects of charity but as...


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