Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

By Sharlene Hesse-Biber; Christina Gilmartin et al. | Go to book overview

PART 3
Social Construction of Difference

Over the past twenty years, the work of black feminist scholars has had a major impact on the understanding of the category of difference in feminist scholarship. The imperative to strive for a nonracist, nonoppressive feminist theory, research, and activism has been heard both within and beyond the disciplines. Patricia Hill Collins' article "Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought" describes a black woman's standpoint as the "outsider within" a dominant white culture, a positionality shared with other nondominant groups and allowing for the recovery of subjugated knowledges. Collins isolates three key themes, however, that characterize the uniqueness of a black feminist epistemology: an emphasis on "self-definition and self-evaluation"; a recognition of "the interlocking nature of oppression"; and the importance of "Afro-American women's culture." In addition to new and powerful analyses of self, family, and society, the standpoint of black feminist or "womanist" thought provides insights and models that challenge the hegemony of traditional disciplines and the tendency of white middle-class feminists to overgeneralize in their knowledge building without reference to the diversity of women's experience. Although contextualized here within the specific field of sociological research, Collins' theorizing of the "outsider within" standpoint has been widely used by feminist critics challenging the biases operating in other academic disciplines, and has provided a bridge between disciplines for those working in an interdisciplinary context.

In the work of feminist scholars focusing on issues of race, class, and ethnicity, gender difference has been shown to be inseparable from other categories of difference. These complex intersections of differences have been obscured by the promotion of a white, Eurocentric, middle-class, heterosexual identity as normative, and by the dependence of that norm on the construction of a simplified Other as their excluded opposite. In "Eating the Other," bell hooks examines the commodification of the Other in "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy," particularly as seen in representations of "blackness" in advertising, film, and popular music. An early version of the erotic nature of this commodification is found in the imperialist desire to "possess" the Other, and in early modernism's preoccupation with "primitivism" as a creative force to be assimilated. Hooks sees the reduction of the potentially revolutionary consciousness of the Other to mere stereotype and spectacle for the white gaze as an effect of what she calls " imperial nostalgia." Following the narratives of several popular films, hooks uncovers the fantasies behind stories of aging white males incorporating the vitality of the black man, and of white women living on the margins of society ap-

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