Rethinking Change: Italian Feminism between Crisis and Critique of Politics

By Dominijanni, Ida | Cultural Studies Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview
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Rethinking Change: Italian Feminism between Crisis and Critique of Politics

Dominijanni, Ida, Cultural Studies Review


Rethinking radical Italian thought, displacing it in a context other than the Italian one, can help us to better discern its qualities, but also its limits. It should provoke us to ask ourselves questions about its reception and its exportability; to 'provincialise' it, as Brett Neilson writes in this issue of Cultural Studies Review. This can be achieved by identifying both its possibilities of contagion with other theories and practices, and its shortcomings in responding to questions and problems that are foreign to the Italian context. The displacement of our object of analysis should also involve a displacement of our own way of thinking as Italians. Speaking personally, I can't help asking myself about the subjective motivations and relations that took me to Australia and Sydney twice in one year. ' I think of the kinds of questions that I've heard female researchers and students ask of Italian feminism in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland too. I think of a certain ease of dialogue between men and feminists that is less suspicious than what we're used to in Italy. There is an openness to the other and to otherness, which might derive from Australia being a multicultural society. The relativisation of Europe, and even more so of Italy, happens spontaneously when looked at from Australia with Asia in between. All this adds up to an 'Australian Effect' that has profoundly changed me and that in turn changes my way of talking about the 'Italian Effect'.

I am therefore writing from within a relationship to this context that already marks me, questions me and dislocates me, and my intention is to yield not so much a thought as a practice of thought, born and bred in close proximity to a political practice.

In his introduction to this section, Brett Neilson points out that what distinguishes radical Italian thought is not so much its theoretical corpus, which has developed in parallel with other contemporary international trends, but more its entrenchment in the political struggles that have characterised the 'Italian laboratory' for decades. This is even more the case for the thought of sexual difference, which was also born and developed in constant dialogue with other trends in international feminism, but which is also radically distinguished by its entrenchment in political and theoretical practice, indeed for the very notion of 'practice' that it adopts. In other words, the theory of sexual difference was not only born out of the political practices of feminism-such as self-awareness, the so-called 'practice of the unconscious', the practice of relations between women-but is in itself a theoretical practice.2 It is a style of thinking that is characterised by the method of beginning from oneself, by the metonymical relation between what we experience and what we say, and by a privileging of the reference to female genealogy rather than accredited and institutionalised traditions, disciplines and schools.3

This style of thinking means that there is neither a split between theory and experience, thinking and action, ends and means, nor between the enunciated and the subject of enunciation, the transformation of reality and of the self, as is usually the case in movements of transformation and revolutions. Rather there is a coming together in a virtual loop, which makes it possible to keep alive the original distinguishing feature of feminism as a movement of sexed subjectivity that cannot be reified into an objective 'female question' or crystallised into a female collective identity.

The movement of sexual difference can be understood as a theoretical, linguistic and political practice that works in context and that measures its results, gains, losses and displacements as a function of the transformation of this context. Precisely because of these defining traits, the thought of sexual difference refuses to lend itself to being summed up as a finished, abstract 'corpus', but exists as a thinking-in-progress.

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