Feminism Without Borders (Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity)

Item Code: NAF883
Author: Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Publisher: Zubaan Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 9788186706718
Pages: 320
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 590 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Bringing together classic and new writings of the trailblazing feminist theorist Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders addresses some of the most pressing and complex issues facing contemporary feminism. Forging vital links between daily life and collective action and between theory and pedagogy, Mohanty has been at the vanguard of Third World and international feminist thought and activism for nearly two decades. This collection highlights the concerns running throughout her pioneering work: the politics of difference and solidarity, decolonizing and democratizing feminist practice, the crossing of borders, and the relation of feminist knowledge and scholarship to organizing and social movements. Mohanty offers here a sustained critique of globalization and urges a reorientation of transnational feminist practice towards anticapitalist struggles. Her probing and provocative analyses of key concepts in feminist thought "home", "sisterhood", "community" lead the way toward a feminism without borders, a feminism fully engaged with the realities of a transnational world.


About the Author


Chandra Talpade Mohanty is Professor of Women's Studies and Dean's Professor of the Humanities at Syracuse University. She is the co-editor of Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures and Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism.



Decoionization, Anticapitalist Critique, and Feminist Commitments

This volume is the product of almost two decades of engagement with feminist struggles. It is based on a deep belief in the power and significance of feminist thinking in struggles for economic and social justice. And it owes whatever clarity and insight the reader may find in these pages to a community of sisters and comrades in struggle from whom I have learned the meaning, joy, and necessity of political thinking. While many of the ideas I explore here are viewed through my own particular lenses, all the ideas belong collectively to the various feminist, antiracist, and anti-imperialist communities in which I have been privileged to be involved. In the end, I think and write in conversation with scholars, teachers, and activists involved in social justice struggles. My search for emancipator knowledge over the years has made me realize that ideas are always communally wrought, not privately owned. All faults however, are mine, for seeking the kind of knowledge that emerges in these pages brings with it its own gaps, faults, opacities. These I accept in the hope that they too prove useful to the reader.


Feminist Commitments Why "feminism without borders?" First, because it recalls "doctors without borders," an enterprise and project that embodies the urgency, as well as the internationalist commitmentthat I see in the best feminist praxis. Second, because growing up as part of the post independence generation in India meant an acute awareness of the borders, boundaries, and traces of British colonialism on the one hand, and of the unbounded promise of decolonization on the other. It also meant living the contradiction of the promise of nationalism and its various limits and failures in postcolonial India. Borders suggest both containment and safety, and women often pay a price for daring to claim the integrity, security, and safety of our bodies and our living spaces. I choose "feminism without borders," then, to stress that our most expansive and inclusive visions of feminism need to be attentive to borders while learning to transcend them.


Feminism without borders is not the same as "border-less" feminism. It acknowledges the fault lines, conflicts, differences, fears, and containment that borders represent. It acknowledges that there is no one sense of a border, that the lines between and through nations, races, classes, sexualities, religions, and disabilities, are real-and that a feminism without borders must envision change and social justice work across these lines of demarcation and division. I want to speak of feminism without silences and exclusions in order to draw attention to the tension between the simultaneous plurality and narrowness of borders and the emancipator potential of crossing through, with, and over these borders in our everyday lives.


In my own life, borders have come in many guises, and I live with them inside as well as across racialized women's communities. I grew up in Mumbai (Bombay), where the visible demarcations between India and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, British and Indian, women and men, Dalit and Brahmin were a fact of everyday life. This was the same Mumbai where I learned multiple languages and negotiated multiple cultures in the company of friends and neighbors, a Mumbai where I went to church services-not just Hindu temples -and where I learned about the religious practices of Muslims and Parsees. In the last two decades, my life in the United States has exposed some new fault-lines-those of race and sexuality in particular. Urbana, Illinois, Clinton, New York, and Ithaca, New York, have been my home places in the United States, and in all three sites I have learned to read and live in relation to the racial, class, sexual, and national scripts embedded in North American culture. The presence of borders in my life has been both exclusionary and enabling, and I strive to envision a critically transnational (internationalist) feminist praxis moving through these borders.


I see myself as an antiracist feminist. Why does antiracist feminism 2 matter in struggles for economic and social justice in the early twenty-first century? The last century was clearly the century of the maturing of feminist ideas, sensibilities, and movements. The twentieth century was also the century of the decolonization of the Third World/South.! the rise and splintering of the communist Second World, the triumphal rise and recolonization of almost the entire globe by capitalism, and of the consolidation of ethnic, nationalist, and religious fundamentalist movements and nation-states. Thus, while feminist ideas and movements may have grown and matured, the backlash and challenges to feminism have also grown exponentially.


So in this political/economic context, what would an economically and socially just feminist politics look like? It would require a clear understanding that being a woman has political consequences in the world we live in; that there can be unjust and unfair effects on women depending on our economic and social marginality and/or privilege. It would require recognizing that sexism, racism, misogyny, and heterosexism underlie and fuel social and political institutions of rule and thus often lead to hatred of women and (supposedly justified) violence against women. The interwoven processes of sexism, racism, misogyny, and heterosexism are an integral part of our social fabric, wherever in the world we happen to be. We need to be aware that these ideologies, in conjunction with the regressive politics of ethnic nationalism and capitalist consumerism, are differentially constitutive of all of our lives in the early twenty-first century. Besides recognizing all this and formulating a clear analysis and critique of the behaviors, attitudes, institutions, and relational politics that these interwoven systems entail, a just and inclusive feminist politics for the present needs to also have a vision for transformation and strategies for realizing this vision.


Hence decolonization, anticapitalist critique, and solidarity.' I firmly believe an antiracist feminist framework, anchored in decolonization and committed to an anticapitalist critique, is necessary at this time. In the chapters that follow I develop antiracist feminist frameworks or ways of seeing, interpreting, and making connections between the many levels of social reality we experience. I outline a notion of feminist solidarity, as opposed to vague assumptions of sisterhood or images of complete identification with the other. For me, such solidarity is a political as well as ethical goal.


Here is a bare-bones description of my own feminist vision: this is a vision of the world that is pro-sex and -woman, a world where women and men are free to live creative lives, in security and with bodily health and integrity, where they are free to choose whom they love, and whom they set up house with, and whether they want to have or not have children; a world where pleasure rather than just duty and drudgery determine our choices, where free and imaginative exploration of the mind is a fundamental right; a vision in which economic stability, ecological sustainability, racial equality, and the redistribution of wealth form the material basis of people's well-being. Finally, my vision is one in which democratic and socialist practices and institutions provide the conditions for public participation and decision making for people regardless of economic and social location. In strategic terms, this vision entails putting in place antiracist feminist and democratic principles of participation and relationality, and it means working on many fronts, in many different kinds of collectivises in order to organize against repressive systems of rule. It also means being attentive to small as well as large struggles and processes that lead to radical change-not just working (or waiting) for a revolution. Thus everyday feminist, antiracist, anticapitalist practices are as important as larger, organized political movements.


While I have no formulas or easy answers, I am a firm believer in the politics of solidarity, which I discuss in some depth in the chapters that follow. But no vision stands alone, and mine owes much to the work of numerous feminist scholars and activists around the world. A brief and very partial genealogy of feminist theoretical frames that have influenced my own thinking illustrates this debt to a vital and challenging transnational feminist community.


In the 1970S and 1980s, socialist feminist thinkers including Michelle Barrett, Mary Mclntosh, Zillah Eisenstein, Dorothy Smith, and Maria Mies pointed out the theoretical limitations of an implicitly masculinist Marxism. These scholars clarified the intricate relationship between production and reproduction, 'the place of the "family" and the "household" in the economic and social relations of capitalist society, and the relation of capitalism to patriarchy (Zillah Eisenstein coined the term "capitalist patriarchy"). 5 At the same time, scholars such as Gloria Ioseph and Iill Lewis theorized the racialization of gender and class in their early work entitled Common Dliferences: Con.fIicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives. And in the United Kingdom, Kurnkum Bhavnani and Margaret Coulson critiqued the theoretical limitations of such socialist feminist concepts as "family" and "household" on Eurocentric grounds. Similarly, Valerie Amos and Pratibha Parmar wrote eloquently about the race blindness of "imperial feminism" socialist, radical, and liberal. In the United States, lesbians of color such as Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Cherrie Moraga, Merle Woo, Paula Gunn Allen, and Gloria Anzaldiia faced head-on the profound racism and heterosexism of the women's movement, and of U.S. radical and liberal feminist theory of the second wave of feminism." Arguments about the race, color, class, and sexual dimensions of gender in the building of feminist analysis and community took centre stage in 4 Feminism without Borders the work of these U.S. feminists of color. The Barnard Conference in the early 1980s inaugurated the so-called sex wars, which brought the contradictions of sex, sexuality, erotica, pornography, and such marginalized sexual practices as sadomasochism to the forefront of feminist debate,"


The 1980s also saw the rise of standpoint epistemology, especially through the work of Nancy Hartsock, Dorothy Smith, and Sandra Harding. This work defined the link between social location, women's experiences, and their epistemic perspectives. And then there were the feminists from Third World/South nations who had a profound influence on my own understanding of the relationship of feminism and nationalism, and of the centrality of struggles fordecolonization in feminist thought. Kumari Iayawardena, Nawal el Saadawi, Fatima Mernissi, Isabel Letelier, and Achola Pala all theorized the specific place of Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African women in national struggles for liberation, and in the economic development and democratization of previously colonized countries,"


More contemporaneously, the work of feminist theorists Ella Shohat, Angela Davis, Iacqui Alexander, Linda Alcoff, Lisa Lowe, Avtar Brah, bell hooks, Zillah Eisenstein, Himani Bannerji, Patricia Bell Scott, Vandana Shiva, Kumkum Sangari, Ruth Frankenberg, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, Kirnberle Crenshaw, Elizabeth Minnich, Leslie Roman, Lata Mani, Uma Narayan, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Leila Ahrned, among many others, has charted new ground in the theorization of feminism and racism, immigration, Eurocentrism, critical white studies, heterosexism, and imperialism.? While there are many scholars and activists who remain unnamed in this brief genealogy, I offer this partial history of ideas to anchor, in part, my own feminist thinking and to clarify the deeply collective nature of feminist thought as I see it. Let me now turn briefly to the limits and pitfalls of feminist practice as I see them in my own context and then move on to a discussion of decolonization and feminist anticapitalist critique. Finally, a road map introduces the reader to the organization of the book.


Feminist practice as I understand it operates at a number of levels: at the level of daily life through the everyday acts that constitute our identities and relational communities; at the level of collective action in groups, networks, and movements constituted around feminist visions of social transformation; and at the levels of theory, pedagogy, and textual creativity in the scholarly and writing practices of feminists engaged in the production of knowledge. While the last few decades have produced a theoretically complex feminist practice (I refer to examples of these throughout the book), they have also spawned some problematic ideologies and practices under the label "feminist."


In my own context I would identify three particular problematic directions within U.S.-based feminisms. First, the increasing, predominantly class based gap between a vital women's movement and feminist theorizing in the U.S. academy has led in part to a kind of careerist academic feminism whereby the boundaries of the academy stand in for the entire world and feminism becomes a way to advance academic careers rather than a call for fundamental and collective social and economic transformation. This gap between an individualized and narrowly professional understanding of feminism and a collective, theoretical feminist vision that focuses on the radical transformation of the everyday lives of women and men is one I actively work to address. Second, the increasing corporatization of U.S. culture and naturalization of capitalist values has had its own profound influence in engendering a neoliberal, consumerist (protocapitalist) feminism concerned with "women's advancement" up the corporate and nation-state ladder. This is a feminism that focuses on financial "equality" between men and women and is grounded in the capitalist values of profit, competition, and accumulation. A protocapitalist or "free-market" feminism is symptomatic of the "Americanization" of definitions of feminism-the unstated assumption that U.S. corporate culture is the norm and ideal that feminists around the world strive for. Another characteristic of protocapitalist feminism is its unstated and profoundly individualist character. Finally, the critique of essentialist identity politics and the hegemony of postmodernist skepticisrn about identity has led to a narrowing of feminist politics and theory whereby either exclusionary and self-serving understandings of identity rule the day or identity (racial, class, sexual, national, etc.) is seen as unstable and thus merely "strategic." Thus, identity is seen as either naive or irrelevant, rather than as a source of knowledge and a basis for progressive mobilization. P Colonizing, U.S. and Eurocentric privileged feminisms, then, constitute some of the limits of feminist thinking that I believe need to be addressed at this time. And some of these problems, in conjunction with the feminist possibilities and vision discussed earlier, form the immediate backdrop to my own thinking in the chapters that follow. On Solidarity, Decolonization, and Anticapitalist Critique I define solidarity in terms of mutuality, accountability, and the recognition of common interests as the basis for relationships among diverse communities. Rather than assuming an enforced commonality of oppression, the practice of solidarity foregrounds communities of people who have chosen to work and fight together. Diversity and difference are central values here-to be acknowledged and respected, not erased in the building of alliances. Iodi Dean (1996) develops a notion of "reflective solidarity" that I find particularly useful. She argues that reflective solidarity is crafted by an interaction involving three persons: "I ask you to stand by me over and against a third" (3). This involves thematizing the third voice "to reconstruct solidarity as an inclusive ideal," rather than as an "us vs. them" notion. Dean's notion of a communicative, in-process understanding of the "we" is useful, given that solidarity is always an achievement, the result of active struggle to construct the universal on the basis of particulars/differences. It is the praxis-oriented, active political struggle embodied in this notion of solidarity that is important to my thinking-and the reason I prefer to focus attention on solidarity rather than on the concept of "sisterhood." Thus, decolonization, anticapitalist critique, and the politics of solidarity are the central themes of this book. Each concept foregrounds my own commitments and emerges as a necessary component of an antiracist and internationalist feminism -without borders. In particular, I believe feminist solidarity as defined here constitutes the most principled way to cross borders-to decolonize knowledge and practice anticapitalist critique.


In what is one of the classic texts on colonization, Franz Fanon (1963) argues that the success of decolonization lies in a "whole social structure being changed from the bottom up"; that this change is "willed, called for, demanded" by the colonized; that it is a historical process that can only be understood in the context of the "movements which give it historical form and content"; that it is marked by violence and never "takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally"; and finally that "decolonization is the veritable creation of new men." In other words, decolonization involves profound transformations of self, community, and governance structures. It can only be engaged through active withdrawal of consent and resistance to structures of psychic and social domination. It is a historical and collective process, and as such can only be understood within these contexts. The end result of decolonization is not only the creation of new kinds of self-governance but also "the creation of new men" (and women). While Fanon's theorization is elaborated through masculine metaphors (and his formulation of resistance is also profoundly gendered the framework of decolonization that Fanon elaborates is useful in formulating a feminist decolonizing project. If processes of sexism, heterosexism, and misogyny are central to the social fabric of the world we live in; if indeed these processes are interwoven with racial, national, and capitalist domination and exploitation such that the lives of women and men, girls and boys, are profoundly affected, then decolonization at all the levels (as described by Fanon) becomes fundamental to a radical feminist transformative project. Decolonization has always been central to the project of Third World feminist theorizing-and much of my own work has been inspired by these particular feminist genealogies.


Iacqui Alexander and I have written about the significance of decolonization to feminist anticolonial, anticapitalist struggle 13 and I want to draw on this analysis here. At that time we defined decolonization as central to the practice of democracy, and to the re envisioning of democracy outside freemarket, procedural conceptions of individual agency and state governance. We discussed the centrality of self-reflexive collective practice in the transformation of the self, reconceptualizations of identity, and political mobilization as necessary elements of the practice of decolonization. Finally, we argued that history, memory, emotion, and affectional ties are significant cognitive elements of the construction of critical, self-reflective, feminist selves and that in the crafting of oppositional selves and identities, "decolonization coupled with emancipatory collective practice leads to a rethinking of patriarchal, heterosexual, colonial, racial, and capitalist legacies in the project of feminism and, thus, toward envisioning democracy and democratic collective practice such that issues of sexual politics in governance are fundamental to thinking through questions of resistance anchored in the daily lives of women, that these issues are an integral aspect of the epistemology of anti-colonial feminist struggle" (xxxviii). The chapters that follow draw on these particular formulations of decolonization in the context of feminist struggle. A formulation of decolonization in which autonomy and self-determination are central to the process of liberation and can only be achieved through "self reflexive collective practice."







Introduction: Decolonization, Anticapitalist Critique, and Feminist Commitments,



Part One. Decolonizinq Feminism



Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,



Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism,



What's Home Got to Do with It? (with Biddy Martin),



Sisterhood, Coalition, and the Politics of Experience,



Genealogies of Community, Home, and Nation,



Part Two. Demystifying Capitalism



Women Workers and the Politics of Solidarity,



Privatized Citizenship, Corporate Academies, and Feminist Projects



Race, Multiculturalism, and Pedagogies of Dissent



Part Three. Reorienting Feminism



"Under Western Eyes" Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles












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