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

Spaces for Counter-Narratives: The Phenomenology of Reclamation

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

Spaces for Counter-Narratives: The Phenomenology of Reclamation

Article excerpt

In this essay I explore the following question: how can women gain authority and ownership over their self-understanding? I offer an understanding of feminist reclamation that goes beyond existing analyses, by shifting our focus from the public sphere of explicit verbal discourse to the private sphere of the interior female consciousness. I will argue that there are two kinds of spaces within which a reclamation project takes place: the first is a public and communal space of external interlocutors who provide semantic authority to the meanings we wish to construct: the second is the private sphere of one's consciousness, which remains a site of colonization by patriarchal discourse. This space remains relatively undertheorized by feminists. I will argue that in thinking more carefully about this space, and in delineating its relationship to the public sphere of discourse, we will gain a fuller understanding of reclamation.

Existing analyses of reclamation focus mostly on the explicit, public use of language in shaping discourse about and among women. (1) We reclaim words and phrases so that we refashion their meanings to correspond to our particular goals. We rescue or salvage them from their earlier--often derogatory--meanings so that they have the authority of our ownership behind them. Thus, the immediate target of reclamation is our discourse with one another. This specifically linguistic reclamation is a tool for disarming the power of a dominant group to control one's own and others' views of oneself, to categorize oneself or one's group in a totalizing way. It is "a demand for women to take the kind of authority to name, describe and create our world ... defining, describing and re-creating ourselves while simultaneously defining, describing, and re-creating our social and material world." (2) Thus, the reclamation I refer to here will be a project of consciousness-raising through identity reconstruction, a project in which linguistic reclamation is a necessary component. But this project becomes complicated as soon as we acknowledge that the construction of self-conception remains a site of deep contestation. We are, in different complex ways, always subject to others' stories about us, so that our ownership of our identity is partial at best. (3) In the construction and maintenance of any one person's identity, a complex web of personages participates in an equally complex web of ongoing dialogical interactions that involves the authoring of stories, the exchange of ideas, and the carving out of ownership. (4)

Drawing occasionally on insights from narrative psychology, I will rely on this discursive model of identity construction in order to shed light on the reclamation that occurs within the space of the individual female consciousness. Reclaiming self-understanding, I will show, is in part about liberating this consciousness from its propensity to judge itself through the lens of the dominant group, to speak to itself and of itself in the voice of patriarchy. Doing so, however, depends crucially upon understanding what I call "internal interlocutors" and exploring the relationship of these interlocutors to the communities they encounter within the public space of reclamation. I will argue that these communities serve to model a series of skills and capacities associated with autonomy competency. Understanding this phenomenon gives us a fuller understanding of the reclamation process.

In naming this project a "phenomenology of reclamation," I follow the lead of feminist thinkers who point to a "modest and situated phenomenology": a descriptive analysis of the lived experience and "embodied consciousness of a feminine subject ... with a specific social and historical location." (5) While some feminists use phenomenology to demonstrate how the values of an oppressive system are able to take up residence inside the female consciousness, my essay gives an account of the reverse. It offers an experiential articulation of how the individual female consciousness might, in collaboration with others, expel from within itself these oppressive values and reclaim ownership of and authority over its self-definition. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.