Review of Deborah Orr, Dianna Taylor, Eileen Kahl, Kathleen Earle, Christa Rainwater and Linda Lopez McAlister (Eds), Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference and Agency

By Omotola, J. Shola | Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Review of Deborah Orr, Dianna Taylor, Eileen Kahl, Kathleen Earle, Christa Rainwater and Linda Lopez McAlister (Eds), Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference and Agency


Omotola, J. Shola, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality


Review of Deborah Orr, Dianna Taylor, Eileen Kahl, Kathleen Earle, Christa Rainwater and Linda Lopez McAlister (Eds), Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference and Agency (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), xi + 274 pp.

In 1998, the International Association of Women Philosophers (IAPh), founded in the 1970s "to give German-speaking philosophers and later women philosophers from other countries and culture, a place to share their work and ideas on philosophical topics" (p. vii), organized its eighth symposium in Boston, USA, with the original theme: political divisions and identity politics. Deborah Orr et al. edited the volume Feminist Politics, based on updated versions of the presentations at the symposium, representing another important leap towards the fulfillment of the objectives of the IAPh. It is above all an exceptionally brilliant philosophical interpretation of feminist politics in the contexts of subordination and domination, and is an effort geared towards redressing it from an international perspective.

The book contains fourteen chapters evenly organized into two main parts. The first, "Reconceptualizing Challenges to Entrenched Political Divides" opens with Deborah Orr's panoramic introductory chapter, which basically sets the main problematic of the study and provides a terrific recapitulation of the contributions of chapters. In the first substantive chapter, Deborah Orr offers a critique of the mind/body paradigm in feminist theory, especially rationalism, anti-rationalism and post-rationalism. She draws on the influential works of Wittgenstein, Harowitz and Nagarjuna to argue persuasively about the shortcomings of each of these theories in explaining identity and difference. She also calls for "a de-essentialized" woman that avoids the mind/body binarism and associated dissonance with feminist theories (p. 34). Drawing on the works of Donna Haraway, Katherine Hayles and Karen Barad, Jutta Weber explores the theoretical strengths and weaknesses of "denaturalization" in contemporary feminist thought. Reflection on what she calls "confusion of borders" between culture and nature, she usefully argues for the reinvention of nature such that feminists will no longer be afraid of nature as has been the case in the last decades.

Marie-Claire Belleau, Sigal Ben-Porath, Cathryn Bailey and Marlene Benjamin reflect on different aspects of feminism and identity. Belleau's examines the nexus between feminism and identity politics in Quebec-Canada. Relying on the concept of "strategic intersectionality," she makes a case against both essentialism and universalism, calling for a feminist approach that allows for unity in diversity through coalition building for mutual relations between contending feminist identities. BenPorath focuses on the links between militarism and patriarchalism. For her, a "security state" produces "belligerent citizenship" (limited citizenship; p. 64), showing how this negatively affects women to make interesting arguments for reinvigorating the educational system in strengthening democracy. This not only serves to "diversify the public sphere," but also offers "further options, further visions, and further voices beyond the oppressive unity of belligerent citizenship" (p. 78). Contrary to the relative indifference of older feminists to the representation of "third wave" feminist activism, discarding it as "just a TV show" (p. 95), Bailey's offers a useful argument that third wave activism does exist, albeit in a cultural and not in a traditionally political version. Yet the cultural representation of activism represents some form of politics by other means: "that young feminists have focused so much on cultural images need not be seen as representing a retreat from reality as much as how the reality is mediated through such images" (p. 83). Benjamin's explores the relationship between catastrophic illness and the workings of the body on the one hand, and language and experience vis-a-vis connections and confusions, on the other.

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