Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Deconstruction and the Problematics of Social Engagement

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Deconstruction and the Problematics of Social Engagement

Article excerpt

Fertile Tensions

On Patti Lather, Getting Lost: Feminist Efforts toward a Double(d) Science (suny Press)

To situate the position from which this commentary emerges, I speak not as critic but as interlocutor, fellow traveler. I believe that all of us are grappling with similar issues from each of our intellectual and social histories. So while I would like to raise some questions that trouble me, it is in the spirit not of critiquing but of engaging, from the perspective born of my own history, with the complex issues Patti Lather lays out for us. One aspect of that history is my involvement in feminist theory and social theory and my efforts in the last few years to develop a critical reconstruction of research on reasoning in the space opened by feminist critiques of rationality (1) and a trans-disciplinary, systemic approach to the constitution of "self" and "mind". (2) Another is my passionate belief in the epistemic productivity of tensions: the tension between the abstract and the concrete, between the particular and the general, between discourse and materialism in social theory, between discursive and cognitive approaches to psychology. With reference to these issues as well as more generally, I have argued that theoretical tensions are fertile and should be cultivated as an epistemic process and that they are best seen not as signaling the necessity to choose but as grounds for transformative, synthetic theoretical reformulation in which both theoretical languages are transformed and something new emerges. (3)

In this brilliant and provocative book, Patti Lather invites us to think freshly about how to reconceptualize the nature of inquiry in an epistemic world that uncompromisingly affirms the impossibility of knowing, the noninnocence of any knowledge production project, and the uncertainties of interpretation. Her discussion is compelling, and no complexity is left unturned and unarticulated.

The crisis of representation has preoccupied feminist and other critical scholars for some time. Lather, however, engages this problematic in a particularly radical and courageous way, choosing to be suspended in aporia in an effort to think something fresh, refusing the illusion of successor regimes that is present even in the moment of critique, and unfolding a double practice as a deconstructive way of moving forward and of "formulating a kind of feminist research not yet overcoded in the face of received understandings." (4) She envisions and enacts " [a] doubled epistemology where the text becomes a site of the failures of representation and where textual experiments are not so much about solving the crisis of representation as about troubling the very claims to represent." (5)

Lather promotes getting lost as epistemological practice, as a "chosen surrender, in order to find what goes beyond what we know," (6) a practice of "situating the experience of impossibility as an enabling site for working through aporias." (7) The question she asks, "What enablements can we imagine from loss?" (8) opens an unexplored space where new imaginings are possible and where, while being lost, one moves on, perhaps forward. An intriguing question is whether aporia and tension are interchangeable notions, functionally equivalent in their nature and their effects. Potentially, the two notions embody distinct aspects of a larger problematic. To surrender to not knowing as a way of knowing (aporia) seems an epistemic experience different from the dynamic state of living in tension.

The discussion to follow explores three issues that to me seem crucial in the territory covered in the book: the tension between aporia and engagement, the tensions involved in reimagining science in postfoundational times, and the related tensions involved in reinventing validity.


A particularly poignant tension is that between aporia and engagement, the being suspended in not knowing and the commitment to socially engaged inquiry. …

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