The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity

The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity

The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity

The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity

Synopsis

Power is clearly a crucial concept for feminist theory. Insofar as feminists are interested in analyzing power, it is because they have an interest in understanding, critiquing, and ultimately challenging the multiple array of unjust power relations affecting women in contemporary Western societies, including sexism, racism, heterosexism, and class oppression. In The Power of Feminist Theory, Amy Allen diagnoses the inadequacies of previous feminist conceptions of power, and draws on the work of a diverse group of theorists of power, including Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Hannah Arendt, in order to construct a new feminist conception of power. The conception of power developed in this book enables readers to theorize domination, resistance, and solidarity, and, perhaps more importantly, to do so in a way that illuminates the interrelatedness of these three modalities of power.

Excerpt

Feminists have talked a great deal about power, so much so that it may seem as if nothing more remains to be said on the subject. This focus on power is not surprising, given the fact that, as Joan Scott has argued, "gender is a primary field within which or by means of which power is articulated." If Scott is correct, then the feminist critique of gender necessitates a feminist critique of power. However, in what follows, I shall suggest that feminists have yet to develop a satisfactory account of this central concept. I have two primary tasks in this book: first, to assess contemporary feminist perspectives on power in an effort to explain why we have yet to come up with an adequate feminist conception of power; and second, to develop, by way of a consideration of the analyses of power offered by Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Hannah Arendt, a new feminist conception of power.

Edward Said has argued that, when thinking about power, "it is sensible to begin by asking the beginning questions, why imagine power in the first place, and what is the relationship between one's motive for imagining power and the image one ends up with." Said goes on to suggest that the kind of conception of power one develops will depend in large part on the interest that one has in studying power in the first place, on what one wants a theory of power to do, on what kind of phenomena one wants this concept to illuminate. Said's observation about the study of power helps us to make sense of how it is possible that completely disparate analyses can be put forth as accounts of one and the same concept. Thus, for instance, if we are interested primarily in thinking about the legitimate or illegitimate exercise of power by the state to constrain or limit the actions of the individual (as in classical liberal political theory), then we are likely to come up with a quite different conception than one whose thought about power is motivated by a concern with socioeconomic relations of oppression and stratification (as in, for example, classical Marxist political theory).

The observation that one's understanding of power is a function of the interests one brings to the study of power seems particularly true for feminist theorizing about power. After all, feminist theory is closely -- although not uncritically -- tied to the aims and interests of feminism as a . . .

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