Feminism, Democracy, and the
Complexities of Citizenship
In this essay, I argue that recent leftist criticisms of "identity politics" do not address problems of inequality and interaction that are central in thinking about contemporary democratic politics. I turn instead to a set of feminist thinkers who share these critics' vision of politics, but who critically mobilize identity in a way that provides a conception of democratic citizenship for our inegalitarian and diverse polity.
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Radical democratic political action attempts to perform the paradoxical task of achieving egalitarian goals in egalitarian ways in an inegalitarian context. The danger is that bracketing social and economic inequality "as though" we were all equal risks reproducing inequity under the guise of neutrality, yet taking those inequalities into account in some systematic way risks reentrenching them. 1 In this essay, I will argue that this central challenge of contemporary democratic theory and practice requires an expansive conception of the languages of citizenship. Specifically, I contend that the language of "identity" need not be regarded as inimical to democratic politics, as it is by many contemporary critics of identity politics. My ungainly title, then, is meant to invoke Clifford Geertz's article "Anti-Anti-Relativism," because I have much the same purpose with respect to identity politics that he had with respect to relativism. That is, my purpose is not to defend something called "identity politics"—nor to dismiss it. I aim instead to contest the particular versions of identity politics that some critics construct and the consequent dangers they envision.