Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

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

PART 4
Power and Resistance

The two articles in this section cover very different terrains, but are linked by a common concern about the ways in which feminist scholarship analyzes systems of domination and their gendered impact. Deniz Kandiyoti, in her essay "Islam and Patriarchy: A Comparative Perspective", presents a brilliant analysis of the powerful workings of patriarchy as a system of gender domination. Patriarchy is not a new category for feminist scholars, but rather has deep roots in the practice of feminist theory and research. Gerda Lerner is perhaps the most well-known historian to examine its operations. Her writings have traced the development of patriarchy from the second millennium BCE until the present, arguing that patriarchy is the most ancient and entrenched form of social difference, predating the establishment of other discriminatory power hierarchies based on class, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. However, after the linguistic turn patriarchy has become a problematic term for many feminist scholars because of the rather immutable, timeless, and universalist fashions in which it has often been deployed. Judith Butler for instance, has addressed some of its conceptual inadequacies in her prominent work Gender Trouble where she contends: "The very notion of 'patriarchy' has threatened to become a universalizing concept that overrides or reduces distinct articulations of gender asymmetry in different cultural contexts" ( 1990:35). In the wake of the poststructuralist challenge that has threatened to obliterate patriarchy as a viable feminist concept, Kandiyoti argues persuasively for its retention by defining, contextualizing, and historicizing the term. She contends that patriarchy is essentially a precapitalist social formation based on kinship systems in agrarian contexts. Key to its operations, in her view, is the patrilocally extended household, into which very young women are brought through marriage. Kandiyoti is clearly cognizant of the gender subordination that occurs under such patriarchal systems, but she takes great pains to show that these young women are not victims, but rather are able to bargain with and manipulate the system.

In "Feminism and Empowerment: A Critical Reading of Foucault", Monique Deveaux provides a compelling analysis of three waves of feminist application and revision of Foucault's theories of power. Feminist work comprising the first wave has concerned itself with the impact of power on the body, applying Foucault's "docile bodies" theory of the body as a site of social control to analyses of "contemporary practices of femininity" in which women are actually complicitous in disciplining their own bodies. In addition, the "biopower" concept of state control aimed at the manipulation of entire populations of bodies has proven useful in feminist scholars' research on the state's disciplining of women's sexuality and reproductive capacities. Deveaux argues

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