Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

4
Toward an Agonistic Feminism: Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Identity

Bonnie Honig

Hannah Arendt is an odd, even awkward figure to turn to if one is seeking to enrich the resources of a feminist politics. Notorious for her rigid public/private distinction, Arendt protects the sui generis character of her politics and the purity of her public realm by prohibiting the politicization of issues of social justice and gender. These sorts of occupation belong not to politics but to the traditional realm of the household as Aristotle theorized it. In short, the 'Woman Problem', as she called it, was not one that Arendt thought it appropriate to pose, politically.1

Why turn to Arendt, then? I turn to her not as a theorist of gender, nor as a woman, but as a theorist of an agonistic and performative politics that might stand a feminist politics in good stead. I turn to Arendt because of what she does include in her vision of politics, and also because (not in spite) of what she excludes from it. The terms of that exclusion are instructive for a feminist politics that engages entrenched distinctions between a public and a private realm. In spite of Arendt's insistent reliance on her public/private distinction, the resources for its politicization are present within her account of politics and action. A reading of Arendt that grounds itself in the agonistic and performative impulse of her politics must, for the sake of that politics, resist the a priori determination of a public/private distinction that is beyond augmentation and amendment. This resistance (for the sake of perpetuating the possibility of augmentation and amendment) is itself an important and component part of Arendt's account of politics and political action.

____________________
Chapter 6 in Bonnie Honig (ed.), Feminist Interpretations of Hannah Arendt ( Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), 135-66. First published in Judith Butler and Joan Wallach Scott (eds.), Feminists Theorize the Political ( Routledge, 1992). Copyright & Routledge Inc. ( 1992) Reprinted by permission.

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