Academic journal article Critical Studies

Impossible Communities? on Gender, Vulnerability and Community

Academic journal article Critical Studies

Impossible Communities? on Gender, Vulnerability and Community

Article excerpt

The title of the present volume, D~(ferences in Common, is intended as a statement on its theoretical framework: the editors maintain that the usual opposition between `difference(s)' and `the common,' or between the needs of the individual and those of community, is a "false dilemma," in Giorgio Agamben's words (1). This collection of essays aims to participate, thus, in the ongoing debate on `community,' focusing on its philosophical and political aspects through a gendered perspective. Many of the essays gathered here stem from a collective research project, "Literature and Communities: A Gendered Approach," developed at the University of Barcelona and directed by Marta Segarra,1 as well as from the special issue of Lectora. Revista de dones i textualitat on "Women and Nations," edited by Joana Sabadell-Nieto. The essays in this volume dialogue with other texts by internationally renowned scholars from the United States and Europe who have contributed to the debate on community and the common.

Since the reflection on commnnity traces its origins to ancient times, it would be useless to fry to snmmarize it in a few pages; that effort would be vain even if one focnsed only in the twentieth century, for which `community' has been a very relevant issne. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, this notion has been strongly criticized, since it often implies minimizing difference(s) in the name of "unity," and believing that individuals who form a community have the same features and even share a common "essence." In the last century alone, many examples of exactions have been committed in the name of community. The notion of `communitarianism,' mostly used nowadays (in continental Europe) in a derogatory sense, renders such a narrow understanding of community. Philosophers such as Arendt, Heidegger, Bataille, Blanchot, Foucault, Agamben or Derrida, to name only a few, have made seminal reflections on this concept, often inspired by contemporary historical events and sometimes questioning the term of community itself However, in the 1970's, this notion showed itself to be useful as a political instrument in the fights for civil rights of both ethnic and sexual minorities in the United States and Europe, whereas colonial counfries resorted to the concept of `nation' in order to struggle for independence. New or alternative communities were believed necessary, with which individuals belonging to the aforementioned minorities could identify, such as the Black, gay, lesbian, or even women's community.

In the 1980s and the beginnings of the 1990s, thinkers like Judith Butler, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, or Rada Ivekovié-essays by all three are included in this volume-emphasized the gender bias in the debate, also problematizing the notion of community, whether it was in order to show the link between "nation," as a kind of community, and the subjection of women (Ivekovié), to demonstrate that the identification with a community had only a "strategic" value (Spivak), or to point out the relationship between community and death through the concept of "melancholia" (Butler). Feminist thought on community has shown that women were traditionally excluded from it, especially in its political embodiments, such as the nation. The first section of D~ffèrences in Common, "Gender and Trans-national Citizenship," focuses on nationalism and the nation in order to analyze some of the forms into which this exclusion has been shaped.

The debate on the common and on community has continued through the beginning of the twenty-first century with other fundamental contributions, such as those made by Jean-Luc Nancy (exchanging with Maurice Blanchot) or by the so-called "Italian thinkers," especially by Roberto Esposito, whose theory is based on the notion of "biopower" elaborated by Michel Foucault. Several of these concepts go back to the etymological origins of the term `community' in order to point out that the common does not amount to a property or to an essence. …

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