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  • Engaging in Feminist Intercultural Dialogue as Spiritual Transformation:A Reply to R. Aída Hernández Castillo
  • Marilyn Fischer

aída hernández castillo has given US a profound meditation on feminist dialogical activist inquiry as a pathway to knowledge. What strikes me most powerfully is Hernández Castillo's voice. The path she describes is one on which the methodological, the moral, and the existential merge into spiritual transformation.

In this response, I will point out three characteristics of Hernández Castillo's path that leapt out at me: (1) The experiences lead, (2) the self is wrenched, and (3) the self is quieted. Now, this is an odd list. Pragmatists speak of experience as doing and undergoing, and these are all characteristics of undergoing. Scholars think of knowledge as the result of doing, of something constructed. Descartes sought to construct all of it, all by himself. As scholars today, our goals are more humble; our knowledge is socially constructed, and because we are situated, what we construct is limited. Nonetheless, we still imagine the work as architectural, something we build using sophisticated tools honed by graduate education and professional experience.

This model of inquiry does not fit what Hernández Castillo offers us. Images of architecting and building do not suggest being led, or wrenched, or quieted. William James knew how important it is to find the right image. He commented: "Any author is easy if you can catch the centre of his vision" (Pluralistic Universe 44). I do not have an image for what is at the center of Hernández Castillo's vision of feminist activist dialogical inquiry. Perhaps we can find one together. For aides, I call on two of classical American philosophy's founders, William James because he knew the power of words and used them powerfully, and Jane Addams because she, too, was a practitioner of feminist dialogical activist inquiry. [End Page 84]

1. The Experiences Lead

An account's beginning is instructive. Hernández Castillo's first sentence does not say "I have discovered a method for social reform, for saving Indigenous cultures, and for reforming anthropological methodology." Instead, she begins modestly and inwardly; her aim is "to decolonize my own feminism and rethink my activist research methodologies" (58). Repeatedly, Hernández Castillo uses the construction "the experiences that led me": the experiences that led her to question, that led her to participate, that led her to reflect, that led her to confront (59). Her pathway is one of responsiveness to the experiences that come her way, ones she may have chosen to enter, but she did not choose where they would lead. Addams uses a similar construction in the preface to Twenty Years at Hull House: "This volume endeavors to trace the experiences through which various conclusions were forced upon me" (2).

Hernández Castillo's experiences led her to a place that is anathema to positivist social scientists and to liberal and radical feminists. I imagine self-respecting mainstream anthropologists have little interest in placing Mesoamerican cosmovision at the center of their vision. Liberal and radical feminists have staked their minds on stomping out complementarity and duality of gender relations. It's an odd path for a well-trained anthropologist, as Hernández Castillo watched her circle of professional colleagues shrink and her funding sources dry up.

2. The Self Is Wrenched

Hernández Castillo's experiences led her through repeated wrenchings of the self. She began her search as a highly trained anthropologist. Her self—that is, what she knew, how she perceived the world, and how she judged the situations of others—had been well-formed by the methods of science and by liberal and radical feminist theories. She tells us about the ghosts of positivist science (Hernández Castillo 59). Its epistemology is architectural, its practitioners busy, apolitical, value neutral, objective. Though discredited, its ghosts, like that of Banquo, will not down.

Hernández Castillo recognized what she needed to do: decolonize her own feminism and excise the paternalism that continued to linger in her activist research methods, the paternalism that had cemented her superiority as an anthropologist entitled to give others wisdom, to solve their problems...


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