Making Strange: Deconstruction and Feminist Standpoint Theory

By Houle, Karen | Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Making Strange: Deconstruction and Feminist Standpoint Theory


Houle, Karen, Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies


"Non, tout le temps, la deconstruction est du cote du oui, de l'affirmation de la vie ... " (1)

INTRODUCTION: A SKILLED HOSTESS INTRODUCES THE STRANGERS TO EACH OTHER

As a feminist philosopher and activist, I am interested in and committed to the co-implications of democracy and knowledge: vital, diverse, responsible, and just knowing and knowledge-practices. This paper compares two very different, even seemingly incommensurate critical responses to certain antidemocratic, antijustice, and possibly antilife features of classic epistemology, political theory, and metaphysics: feminist standpoint theory (FST) and deconstruction. It is unusual to find these two perspectives in dialogue. But, given that they are both internally coherent, long-sustained, and avowedly political responses to a fairly common set of historicomaterial and theoretical conditions and concerns, and, given that I myself have (possibly conflicting) intellectual and affective fidelities to both these approaches (not to mention abiding respect for the key thinkers who have developed and defended these diverse ideas), I wanted to risk a closer look at how these positions diverge and converge.

Risk is the right word. For it is certainly not unusual to find these approaches disparaged by intelligent and caring people from "the other" perspective: FST is often sneered at as rear-guard, bourgeois, and reactionary while deconstruction is often name-called as irritant, jargony, nihilistic, and hopelessly apolitical. A good psychoanalytic subject wonders if there might be some truth to these slights; i.e., something of real interest, philosophically. As a joint-loyalist, I can certainly attest to the affect of dispiritedness and stuckness that often attends working with the methods and principles of FST. A mounting tension over its "workability"--conceptually and practically--not only is evident in the critical literature but can become palpable in the classroom when we try to teach and model its basic tenets. De Vautre cote, (from the other side) I can also attest to the fact that there is an affect of intellectual snobbery, dandyism, and self-absorption that can attend working with the methods and principles of deconstruction. What is "unworkable" is exactly what is of interest, philosophically. We want to know whether and how these difficulties are interconnected, whether one can inform or remedy the other, and what that might mean for the future viability of these kinds of critical perspectives.

This paper takes the question of method as its main point of comparison: how is the best, maximally inclusive, most responsible knowledge and knowledge community achievable, according to each of these perspectives?

Interestingly, both have something to say about the key role of the stranger in these aims. This paper compares the role that the strange and the stranger are seen to play in the making of democratic community. I start by interrogating FST's advice on how to improve knowledge while increasing democracy and diversity. I identify six structural problems implicit in that method. These are serious issues because, as I hope to show, these structures actually undo and work against the very principles that FST avows at the level of intention. I then turn to how deconstruction conceives of strangeness and the stranger. I make the case that the stranger and strangeness in deconstruction can actually get us further in the direction of the laudable intentions of FST without committing the underground, invisible, and ultimately antidemocratic domestication that FST's conception enacts. While my movements in this paper begin by interrogating FST via deconstruction, making apparent with deconstruction what I take to be a contentious and unwelcome trace of power in FST, this paper aspires to bring to light and applaud the productive, if complex, connections between democracy and better knowing that FST does carry within it, what I would like to call its "latent genius.

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