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Postmodern feminism and the problem of third world development

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Postmodern feminism and the problem of third world development
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Kenney, Johanna
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vii, 150 leaves : ; 29 cm

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Women in development ( lcsh )
Feminism -- Research -- Developing countries ( lcsh )
Feminism -- Developing countries ( lcsh )
Feminism ( fast )
Feminism -- Research ( fast )
Women in development ( fast )
Developing countries ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 141-150).
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Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
Johanna Kenney.

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Full Text
POSTMODERN FEMINISM AND THE PROBLEM OF THIRD WORLD
DEVELOPMENT
by
Johanna Kenney
B.A., Eckerd College, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science

1998


This thesis for the Master of Social Sciences
degree by
Johanna K. Kenney
has been approved
by
Michael Tanj


Kenney, Johanna (M.S., Social Science)
Postmodern Feminism and the Problem of Third World Development
Thesis directed by Associate Dean Jana Everett
ABSTRACT
Utilizing a postmodernist feminist framework, this thesis will look at how traditional
methods of researching, theorizing and implementing development theory have silenced voices
of those who are affected most by the theories: the citizens of the Third World and more
specifically, Third World women. Like every theory, postmodernism is very broad with a
number of different proponents who expound a number of different ideas as to what the theory
says, does, and might be able to accomplish. Postmodern theory questions modernity and
argues that modernism is only one way to look at things. The status quo must be destroyed
through perpetual questioning. For its use in critiquing development theory I use postmodern
feminist theory with its basis in reality and with real world application. In order to be useful,
postmodern feminist theory must acknowledge the reality in which women live and believe that
change can be accomplished.
A postmodern feminist critique of development theory will show the gaps, the silences,
left by traditional development theory. In order to be useful for Third World women and their
search for peace and justice, the ideology of postmodernism must be used in such a way to
allow for concrete solutions. A postmodern feminist approach presents a radical new challenge
to the discourse of development. It undermines the power of development by opening up a
space in which marginalized voices can be heard. A postmodern feminist critique of
development questions the very presuppositions of development. Traditional development
discourses have ignored the voices of the marginalized, it has simply assumed that all the world
wants to be Westernized. Postmodern feminist theory seeks to point out these silences in the
academic discourses and to argue that there is more than one way in which to view the world.
m


It is those that have been historically and systematically marginalized and silenced
that feminist postmodernist theory gives voice. By opening up spaces within the dominant
discourse, those previously ignored are now heard and are able to deconstruct the discourse of
modernity in order to work toward lasting change.
This abstract accurately represents the contents of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
publication.
IV


DEDICATION
This thesis is dedicated to all of my family who have supported me in this endeavor and to my
friends who have put up with me during the past three years. I could not have done it without
you.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION................................................1
2. FROM THE MODERN TO THE POSTMODERN...........................9
Positivism.................................................9
Modernity and the Scientific Method....................10
Structuralism.............................................17
Jacques Lacan..........................................18
Poststructuralism/Postmodernism...........................20
Jacques Derrida........................................21
Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard..................................23
Michel Foucault........................................26
3. CONTENTIONS IN FEMINIST THEORY.............................38
Feminist Theory and Modernity.............................38
Liberal Feminism.......................................43
Marxist/Socialist Feminism.............................50
Radical Feminism.......................................60
Third World Feminism...................................67
Postmodern Feminism....................................72
4. THE DISCOURSE OF DEVELOPMENT...............................80
International Relations...................................80
International Development.................................85
The Third World........................................87
vi


Critiques of Development............................92
The Legacy of Development...........................99
5. THE POSTMODERN FEMINIST CRITIQUE OF DEVELOPMENT... 102
Introduction.........................................102
Women in the Third World.............................104
Womens Interests and Gender Interests...............107
Women and Development..............................110
Postmodern Feminism and Development..................123
Conclusion...........................................128
6. CONCLUSION.............................................131
BIBLIOGRAPHY..............................................141
vii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Todays world of social science research is complex and hill of areas of contention.
How is research to be done and for what purposes? Is research done simply for the sake of
knowledge, or is knowledge to be used in order to change the society in which we live? The
traditional methods of research are being questioned, and as a result, a number of new
paradigms are being introduced into the debate. There is no quick and easy answer to the
questions posed by these new paradigms, but there is a growing argument that claims that the
future of social science research lies in the spaces and silences left untouched by traditional
research methods. Utilizing a postmodernist feminist framework, this thesis will look at how
traditional methods of researching, theorizing and implementing development theory have
silenced voices of those who are affected most by the theories: the citizens of the Third World
and more specifically, Third World women.
Like every theory, postmodernism is very broad with a number of different proponents
who expound a number of different ideas as to what the theory says, does, and might be able to
accomplish. For its use in critiquing development theory I use postmodern feminist theory.1 For
me, postmodern feminist theory cannot be just theory without basis in reality and without real
1 One of the main tenets of postmodernist thought is the deconstruction of categories. Ironically
a good deal of this thesis will be focusing on the different categories of social science research.
By putting the word feminist after postmodern I am making the assumption that most
postmodern thought is not feminist, that in fact it is done by and for men. By using the category
of feminist I am in fact acknowledging the male norm. This is problematical as one of the main
projects of this thesis is to deconstruct the male norm and to argue that categorizing is the same
as limiting. However, in todays social science theory the male is the norm, and I know no other
way to acknowledge theory done outside of the norm, except to categorize it.


world application. It must acknowledge the reality in which women live and believe that change
can be accomplished. This train of postmodernist thought overlaps critical theory in that it can
lead to change through deconstruction of the status quo; as Sylvester (1994: 54-55) argues, it
takes to heart the critique of postmodernism that asks how, at the moment when third-worlders
are able to assert themselves, postmodernism can relay the message that the voice of national
liberation is a subterfuge for sovereignty. Postmodernism is not easy to define, and the debate
goes on as to who exactly is a postmodern theorist. For this thesis I am going to introduce and
use theorists who, perhaps despite their own assertion, have been placed in the postmodernist
camp. To continually debate who and what is postmodern will be a futile gesture, going
nowhere and leading to no new theoretical positionings. So while this thesis may overlook some
of the internal problems of the postmodernist debate, it takes what it needs from the different
theorists in order to make its point about Third World development theory.
I understand that there is an inherent irony within postmodernist theory. While the
project of postmodernism is to destroy the discourse that modernity has built, the postmodern
could not exist without the modem. The postmodern critique has been able to emerge in spite
of, or more to the point, because of, the modernist project. As Foucault (1984: 43) wrote, we
must try to porceed with tire analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to
a certain extent, by the Enlightenment. Postmodernism is concerned with deconstructing
modernity, yet it is modernity which gives it meaning.
Several years ago, as an undergraduate student of Political Science, I came across a
book by Christine Sylvester (1994) entitled Feminist Theory and International Relations in a
Postmodern Era. This work looks at the field of international relations in ways previously
ignored by international relations texts. Her reworking of the text of international relations
theory shows the limitations of a theory which has hereto largely ignored the voices of the
2


marginalized and the oppressed. She writes that postmodern feminism is the label I put on
efforts to negotiate the borderlands of feminist and other theories in a postmodern era so that we
neither get lost in the shuffle nor find ourselves confined to separate, politically wrent, feminist
homelands (16-17). Her purpose is not to completely destroy the discipline, but to show its
weaknesses and to challenge the very foundations of its philosophy.
A postmodern feminist critique of development theory will show the gaps, the silences,
left by traditional international relations (DR) discourse. Chapter 2 discusses the evolution of
postmodernist thought and its quest, as Stanley J. Grenz (1996: 2) notes, to move past
modernity. Grenzs A Primer on Postmodernism was an invaluable resource for this section.
Much more thorough on the subject than this thesis, Grenz discusses the rise of postmodern
thought out of modernity as well as analyzes a number of individual theorists. This thesis
briefly looks at the theories of the structuralist Jacques Lacan, and
poststrucuralists/postmodemists Jacques Derrida, Jean-Frangois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.
This section looks at these theorists basic tenets, their influences, and their critics. Included in
the critique is a feminist analysis of each theorist.
Chapter Three looks at the evolution of feminist theory. From its roots in the suffrage
movement at the turn of the centuryfirst wave feminismfeminist theory reemerged in the
1960ssecond wave feminismas a more diversified movement. Second wave feminism not
only relied on the liberal feminists call for policy reform, but includes radical feminists who call
for a complete overhaul of the entire social, political, and economic system of society. This
section begins with a look at early liberal feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her work A
Vindication of the Rights of Women. It then goes on to discuss liberal feminism in its present
form and why it has failed to reach its goal of equality for women and men. Marxist/socialist
feminism and radical feminism are then discussed in the same manner. In Feminist Thought: A
3


Comprehensive Introduction, Rosemarie Tong (1989: 1) successfully argues that feminist
theory is not one, but many, theories or perspectives and that each feminist theory or perspective
attempts to describe womens oppression, to explain its causes and consequences, and to
prescribe strategies for womens liberation. Her overview of feminist thought was extremely
useful when it came to pointing out both the strengths and the weaknesses of each school of
feminist thought. JeanBethkes Elshtainshook Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social
and Political Thought also proved invaluable as it gives an excellent critique of both first wave
feminism and second wave liberal feminism, Marxist/socialist feminism and radical feminism.
For this thesis I will use Christine Sylvesters distinction between feminist
postmodernism and postmodern feminism2. Feminist postmodernism, Sylvester (1994: 11)
writes, emphasizes the deconstruction of authority, including the authority of a coherent Self
that is often posed as sovereign man. It is an epistemology radically skeptical of modernist
notions of the self, power, culture, development, and hierarchical social relations such as those
based on race, gender, nationality, or class. It is openly critical of any notions of authoritative
knowledge or absolute truth and is often criticized for its tendency to reduce all aspects of
identity and knowledge to nihility.
In comparison, Sylvester (1994: 12) argues, postmodern feminism is a position of
negotiation between standpoint feminism, with its conviction that real women exist and lean
toward practicalmoral imperatives, and feminist postmodern skepticisms. Like feminist
postmodernism, it is concerned with deconstructing the patriarchal and modernist notions of the
self and knowledge, but it does allow for concrete definitions which allow for works of
emancipation. The question posed by postmodern feminists, Sylvester (1994: 12) writes, is
2 The different aspects of postmodernism and feminism will be discussed in greater detail in
Chapter 2, but it is important to note the distinction between the two forms, for this thesis is
concerned with postmodernism that is emancipatory in nature, not simply elitist theory.
4


how can we bring women into view and valorize their experiences while casting a skeptical eye
on gender identities worn like birthday suits? This is a question explored in this thesis, for
rejecting women as a socially constructed category of oppression is fine if one is only interested
in women in the abstract, but for practical purposes this segment refuses to acknowledge that
real women exist. Sylvester (1994: 52) acknowledges this when she writes that postmodern
feminism is skeptical about lines of thinking that unproblematically accept the meaningful
existence of women, but does not run roughshod over people who find meaning in these subject
statuses. In order to be useful for Third World women and their search for peace and justice,
the ideology of postmodernism must be used in such a way to allow for concrete solutions.
The fourth chapter begins with an overview of the competing theories and themes of
contemporary international relations (IR). In International Relations: Understanding Global
Issues, Peter A. Toma (1991), Professor Emeritus of political science and international relations
at the University of Arizona, and Robert F. Gorman, Associate professor of political science at
Southwestern Texas State University, use and eclectic and issue-oriented approach to the study
of international relations (vii). This approach makes their text exceedingly useful as a
reference tool for the first section of this chapter. After taking a critical look at the different
paradigms within IR, the second part of this chapter looks at the field of international
development theory. Using Jonathan Crushs (1995) Power of Development as a point of
departure for analysis, this section looks at the basic ideology behind development theory, its
evolution from colonialist discourses, and its Western presumptions. Development theory is a
product of modernity and relies on the discourse of difference to split the world into a hierarchy
of developed and undeveloped. One of the basic impulses of those who write development,
Crush (1995: 2) argues, is a desire to define, categorize and bring order to a heterogeneous and
5


constantly multiplying field of meaning. This chapter aims to point out the Western
presumptions and exploitative aims of traditional development discourses.
The fifth chapter discusses how postmodern feminists can effectively challenge
traditional IR discourses on development theory, specifically as it relates to Third World women.
By deconstructing the language and ideology used by development theorists, postmodern
feminists can show the Western patriarchal biases upon which this discourse is based. One of
the major influences of this section is Jane L. Parparts (1995) work Post-modernism, Gender,
and Development. Postmodern feminists, she argues, must work toward an epistemological
break with the prevailing paradigm while also re-evaluating the structure of gender relations in
their own societies (256). Traditional approaches to development are seen as ignoring women
or viewing them as obstacles to modernization. A postmodern feminist approach presents a
radical new challenge to the discourse of development. To undermine the power of development
marginalized voices must be heard and the very presuppositions of development questioned.
International relations is a field of study that has just recently begun to feel the effects
of feminist theory, let alone postmodernist theory. In fact, R. B. J. Walker (1992: 180) argues,
feminist critiques have only had a minimal impact on international relations: The extent to
which this specific discipline has remained impervious to almost any form of philosophical or
political critique gives some indication of its role in generating and legitimating what is taken to
be crucial and incontrovertible about political life within the sovereign state. Only in the last
ten years have theorists begun to realize that development is a feminist issue, but even now
women are typically only added in to existing theories.
Ever since the Greeks, political and social theorists have claimed that the private
domain of women is completely separate from the public domain of men. They have refused to
recognize that changes to the structures of society affect how women live and work. Liberal
6


feminists argue that if development is to help people to become healthy and productive citizens
in the international community, development planning must not only take into account the
practical needs of women, but be planned by women who recognize that the traditional
structures of society are patriarchal and hierarchical. Feminists who follow postmodern theory
question if development is even necessary. Who, they ask, gets to decide what development is
and why should people want to become developed in the first place?
Traditional international relations discourses have ignored the voices of the
marginalized, it has simply assumed that all the world wants to be Westernized. Postmodern
feminist theory seeks to point out these silences in the academic discourses and to argue that
there is more than one way in which to view the world. The belief, Chris Weedon (1997: 179)
points out, is that [djifference in patriarchal, racist, capitalistic societies always involves
oppressive power relations. To challenge traditional ideology, feminists need to incorporate
new ways of thinking and doing into their methodology. Postmodernism, while not a perfect fit,
can be a very useful tool for feminist theorists. In Feminism, International Theory, and
International Relations of Gender Inequality, Sarah Brown (1988: 472) argues that to look at
IR theory this way is to make a commitment to understanding the world from the perspective of
the socially subjugated. It is to question everything we have been taught about the world and
how it works.
The need for feminist voices in development theory is necessary in order to construct a
theory which acknowledges the international conflicts of gender. Sylvester (1994: 9) explains,
feminist theory is about studying powerits stories shapes, locations, evocations, and rules of
behaviorusually in tandem with other modern subjects such as class, race, religion, and so
on. Womans domain is not outside of IR, as traditional theories would have one believe, but a
central part of world politics and policies. Women have believed what they were told about
7


themselves as being unpolitical, until finally someone forgot to listen and proved the belief
wrong.
Showing these gaps, these places which silence the voices of the socially marginalized,
postmodernists open up areas of contention. This approach shows the IR discipline to be a
manifestation of the discourses and power relations of the social and historical contexts that
produced [it] (Kincheloe and McLaren 139). Only by showing the inherent inequalities and
the methodological biases of traditional development theory can one begin to work toward
change.3 In order to understand how postmodern feminist theory can be used to develop a just
theory of development we first need to look closer at the evolution of postmodern theory and its
tenuous relationship with feminism.
3Here the idea of postmodern feminist deconstruction overlaps the paradigm of critical theory.
Nihilistic postmodernism is not compatible with the ideology of social change inherent in
critical theory, however this is not the school of postmodernist thought that will be used in this
paper. Instead, I will be using postmodernist theory as Nicola Gavey (1989: 462) uses it. She
believes that the consciousness raising that is a product of the postmodernist deconstruction of
traditional discourse is necessary for significant social change.
8


CHAPTER 2
FROM THE MODERN TO THE POSTMODERN
Positivism
The positivist method, which claims that there is a reality out there that can be
objectively discovered through logical experimentation and incorruptible quantitative methods,
has, until very recently, dominated the field of inquiry in the social sciences. Only within the
past thirty years have the voices of dissension begun to be heard. The idea that the scientific
method is an impartial tool used by objective scientists in the quest for pure knowledge for the
benefit of all humankind is now being questioned. John A. Vasquez (1995: 222) argues that
science is not simply a useful tool, but a practice that creates a mode of life that consciously
destroys other ways of thinking and living. Questioning the value free assertions of scientific
inquiry is only the beginning, social scientists are beginning to ask questions as fundamental as
what is the purpose of research?
Jennifer C. Greene (1990: 244) argues that social scientists are now having to ask
themselves such questions as, whose interests do we serve? Can social science research be used
to serve the common good or is it only good at the local level? Since all knowledge is value
bound, is all social science fundamentally about human values? And as social scientists, what
are our moral and ethical responsibilities concerning the consequences of our work? These are
only a few of the diverse and difficult questions facing todays social scientists. The methods of
social science are changing, as are the issues of the debates, but no one knows for sure where
social science research is headed or which new paradigm will replace the hegemony of
9


positivism: post-positivism, critical theory, post-structuralism4, postmodernism. The field of
social science research may simply become a pluralistic field of inquiry, and this may be for the
best. However, in order to gain legitimacy, new paradigms have fight against a well established
order. Because every movement is historically and culturally situated this chapter will now look
at the evolution of modern methods of inquiry and how it has lead to the birth of postmodernist
thought and its corollary, postmodern feminism.
Modernity and the Scientific Method
Todays social and political theory has deep roots. Even as people question the
methods of positivism, there are still institutionalized structures deciding who gets heard which
are designed to protect the status quo. This inquiry paradigm, as Egon G. Guba and Yvonne S.
Lincoln (1994:108) describe it, defines for researchers, what it is they are about, and what falls
within and outside the limits of legitimate inquiry. Even today one can see the influence of the
ancient Greek philosophers within the construction of this inquiry paradigm. Socrates, Plato,
4 The difference between poststructuralism and postmodernism is modest, and will be discussed
in more detail later in this chapter. As Chris Weedon (1997: 170) notes, in recent feminist
theoretical debates, poststructuralist theories are often termed postmodern, and poststructuralism
is either conflated with postmodernism or seen as a postmodern set of theories.
Poststructuralism is more a form of literary criticism than a world view, concerned with
deconstructing language more than the entire metannarative of the Enlightenment.
Postmodernism is concerned with deconstruction, but, as Grenz (1996: 121) notes, uses it as a
tool to exorcise entirely the ghost of the Enlightenment idealthe disinterested observerfrom
the structuralist scholar. The postmodern theorists wants to be totally free from the faith of
rationality. Weedon (172) also emphasizes that postmodernism goes farther than
poststructuralism in its deligitimization of what Francis Lyotard termed the Western grand
narratives of liberalism, Marxism, philosophy, and science. She states that in the current
debate about feminism and postmodernism, the assumptions underpinning poststructuralist
theory have been brought together in a discussion of fundamental philosophical questions which
are of direct relevance to feminist politics (172). Postmodernism has a highly contested
definition, but is considered to have a more complete world view than poststructuralism, for
poststructuralism is more interested in concrete political objectives.
10


and Aristotle are required reading in any class concerning Western heritage. In the fourteenth
century the Renaissance introduced the Greek ideas of human centered reality, logic, and
curiosity into mainstream Western thought. In the eighteenth century the Enlightenment
solidified the Western ideal into a human centered world. Spirituality was questioned and no
longer did everyone view the unknown with superstitious fear, but as something to be discovered
and analyzed. Scientists, philosophers, and social and political theorists began to explore the
idea of sure knowledge.
According to postmodernism, the truth concerning all reality was out there, people only
had to study it long enough to discover it. Knowledge was possible, certain, objective, and good.
True scientific inquiry was rational, objective, dispassionate, and ahistorical. Knowledge, it was
argued, could free humanity from the whims of nature. An individuals fate was no longer
predestined by the will of God, the individual was a self-determining subject who could discover
all the truths of the universe. According to Stanley Grenz (1996: 3), it became the goal of the
human intellectual quest to unlock the secrets of the universe in order to master nature for
human benefit and create a better world. The rational scientist could in fact, play god. It was
felt that a logical human being could improve upon nature, making it tame, predictable, and
rationalized. Dmitri Shlapentokh (1995: 184) notes that Enlightenment philosophers were
limited in their perception of the world. They viewed the world ahistorically, believing that only
the level of knowledge separated historical periods. Ignoring cultural diversity, they emphasized
universalism, arguing that all societies could be, should be, brought to enlightenment through
the same Western model.
Technology became the tool to accomplish this mission and beliefs of a spiritual nature
were scoffed at as being superstitious nonsense. Grenz (1996:50) writes that experimentation
11


that yielded quantifiable results became the technique of rational scientists5. Scientific
experiments were objective, and any fault in results was in the fallibility of the scientist, not in
the technique6. Science came to be seen as the savior of the human race, and through it a utopia
could be created. Grenz (1996: 47) also notes that the metanarrative7 of science asserted that the
scientific enterprise was good and necessary because it led to knowledge concerning the ultimate
truth of reality. This truth was available to all people who rationally searched for it, and it
would free them from ignorance and oppression.
This concept of the rational individual is at the heart of modern thought. Reality,
Grenz (1996: 40) tells us, is held to be ordered and human reason is assumed to be capable of
understanding this order as it is evident in the laws of nature. Modernity has taught us that
development, industrialization, and civilization are worthy and noble projects. Modernity has
given us the medicalization of disease and the demystification of nature. Material progress is
substituted for spirituality, morality, ethics, and aesthetics. Through the lens of modernity, the
world is viewed through a dualistic lens seeing everything in terms of either/or. Everything is
5Galileo (1564-1642) and Newton (1642-1727) are often credited with being the fathers of the
scientific method. The idea that there is a rational, methodical formula to use in order to
achieve objective data has been the foundation for all scientific research since the intellectual
revolution. Numbers are considered to be infallible, and the numeric interpretation of nature
was going to save humans from the whims of nature.
6John K. Smith (1990: 168-169) notes that for empiricists there is no problem of criteria. Valid
research differed from invalid research based on the use of proper procedures. Physical acts,
which could be reproduced by numerous researchers with the same results, were distinct from
values, which differed from individual to individual. The procedures of science were objective
and free from the values of the researcher, for valid studies were procedurally correct, inept
studies were procedurally flawed.
7 Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard first coined the term metanarrative in order to explain the normative
practices created out of the Enlightenments search for logical and rational explanations of
reality. These categories, Martin Hopenhayn (1995: 94) notes include, but are not limited to, the
advancement of reason, the emancipation of man, progressive self knowledge, and the freedom
of the will, and are used to show how things are, where they should lead to, and how to resolve
the gap between what is and what should be. Metanarratives are social constructs that have
become so universally accepted that they are taken as authoritative truths.
12


black and white, with no room for shades of gray. In their book Global Gender Issues, V. Spike
Peterson and Anne Sisson Runyan (1993: 23) argue that children of modernity are taught that
life is full of choices in which there is only right versus wrong and rational versus emotional.
This constructed dualism constrains human thought and those who seek alternative methods of
viewing reality are often labeled irrational, deviant, or psychotic.
The hierarchical relationship of gender dualisms certainly was around before the
Enlightenment. Friedrich Engels argues that the domestication of animals and the breeding of
herds led to new social relations between men and women as wealth began to create new power
structures. The herds, and the wealth associated with them, originally belonged to the family
unit. In a case where the wife and husband separated, the means of productionthe herds and
any slaveswent with the man, but the children remained with the mother. Children could not
inherit from their father, but from their matrilineal family. So, Engels (1993: 166) notes, on the
one hand as wealth increased it made the mans position in the family more important than the
womans, and on the other hand created an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in
order to overthrow, in favor of his children, the traditional order of inheritance. In order to
allow wealth to be inherited through the fathers line, mother right had to be overthrown.
According to Engels, this overthrow of mother right was the beginning of patriarchal gender
relations. For Engels this was the beginning of the public/private split between men and
women. Engels does not explain how this occurred, but he does say that it did not happen
overnight.
During the Enlightenment there was a division of labor between man and women for
those in the middle and upper classes, but out of necessity, many women had to join the labor
force. This does not mean that there was still no sexual division of labor, however. As Heidi
Hartman (1993: 194) noted, while it is theoretically possible that a sexual division of labor not
13


imply inequality between the sexes, in most known societies, the socially acceptable division of
labor by sex is one which accords lower status to womens work. Even today women make less
than men doing the same work, the corporate ladder is for many women harder to climb, and
some career avenues are still, by precedent, closed to them.
The legalized division of public men versus private women did last much longer as far
as the political realm is concerned. According to Jean Elshtain (1981: 12) the roots of the split
between men and women which held women as apolitical, lies with the Greeks. Those relations
and activities occurring within and serving the governing of the polls were defined as existing
outside the realms of nature and necessity. But, Elshtain (1981: 120 continues the free space of
the polis, though apart from necessity, existed in a necessary relation tot hose activities lodged
within the private realm, held by the Greeks to be the sphere of unfreedom. Citizenry was a
mans prerogative, the household chores of production and reproduction were for women. Only
within the last decade have women in modernized states been granted the right to vote, but even
now, world-wide, womens participation within the official structures of government is still
small in comparison to men8.
In the hierarchical structure of modernity, women are viewed as the absence of men.
They are nature to mans civilization. Gerder Lemer (1986: 25) notes that in 1974, Sherry
Ortner argued that in every known society women are identified as being closer to nature than
men, and therefore, because every culture devalues nature as it strives to rise above it through
mastery, women become the symbolic of an inferior, intermediate order of being. The
public/private dichotomy grew out of the need to keep men and women in separate spheres of
8 For a complete analysis of womens political participation world-wide see the United Nations
semi-regular publication The Worlds Women: Trends and Statistics.
14


society. The rhetoric stated that productive labor was for men, reproductive labor, for women9.
According to Peterson and Runyan (1993: 24) the male-female dichotomy highlights
differences, preserving men in the privileged position in such a way as to make gender
stereotypes difficult to see and nearly impossible to critique. Men are considered to display the
logical and rational traits of human nature, while women are said to display the emotional and
irrational characteristics. While the public/private split between men and women concerning
political and economic issues is, in reality for the most part no longer true, the idea that women
are emotion to mens rationality is still widely held. We see examples of this in our everyday
conversations.
The agent of modernity is language. Language patterns our thoughts, it teaches us
what is important, how to categorize thoughts and objects, and how to communicate with
others10. Deborah Cameron (1990: 11) writes that language is irreducible a social practice,
9 The reality of course is very different. Women were members of the workforce well before
World War II. While the mythology might hold that until the 1940s women worked exclusively
in the home, the truth Connie Brown and Jane Seitz (1970: 3-5) tell us was much different.
Before the industrial revolution women planted, harvested, and tended stock along with their
domestic duties of cooking, weaving, and spinning. In colonial times women ran self-sufficient
factories which produced among other things, clothes, candles, soap, quilts and mattresses. The
industrial revolution, Brown and Seitz (1970: 5) continue, brought a greater exploitation of
womens work for in 1829 women were reported to have earned only one-fourth of what men
did. In 1833 women working at home earned as little as $1.25 per week; annual income for a
woman was a little as $58.50 for hill-time work. The belief that women are absent from the
public sphere is true only for married middle and upper-class women who can afford to stay
home. For the majority of the worlds women, income producing work has been, and continues
to be, a basic necessity.
10Numerous theorists have discussed the relationship between culture, language, and the
construction of the self. One of these works is Edward T. Halls The Silent Language (New
York: Anchor Books, 1959). Another work in the same theme, but done with a different
perspective is Thomas S. Kuhns essay Second Thoughts on Paradigms (in The Essential
Tension, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), which discusses how children are
socialized through language to see the world in a certain way. This socialization is set up in
order to uphold the dominant paradigm, or as Grenz (1996: 54-55) writes, is a social
construction of reality... a belief system that prevails in a given scientific community at a given
time in history. The dominant paradigm ensures that it is accepted without question.
15


grounded in history. Language changes through time and is culturally situated. Through
language a society teaches its citizens what to believe and how to express themselves. Peterson
and Runyan (1993: 43) note that English and other languages structure our thinking in
dichotomies that emphasize difference, suggest timeless polarities, and thus obscure the
interdependence, mutability, and complexity of the social world. Our language constructs our
world so that we see social constructions as natural occurrences.
What we are unable to find words for is deemed unimportant. In Western society
language is constructed to express the dualisms of man over woman, civilization over nature,
and logic over emotion. Catherine McKinnon (1987: 55) writes that we notice that in language
as well as in life that the male occupies both the natural and the male position. This is another
way of saying that the neutrality of objectivity and of maleness are coextensive linguistically,
whereas women occupy the marked, the gendered, the different, the forever-female position. In
the English language there is no word to connote a gender-neutral being. Man and mankind
have until recently, been the undisputed term for men and women. Hare-Mustin and Marecek
(1988: 455) point out the fact that men have traditionally had greater influence over language
than women, and therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have numerous words to
describe events which occur within the public sphere, but few to describe ones inner feelings.
Hare-Mustin and Marecek (1988: 455) go on to argue that language helps shape our reality, it is
a sign system used by the powerful to label, define, and rank. It is only through our language
that we can come to know reality as our culture defines it. Without language there are no
shared experiences between people of a certain society.
In the public sphere social discourse relies on the meanings formed by our language
and our language constricts the substance of the debates. Within a society there is only one
dominant discourse, although it may change over time, and it is this discourse which dictates
16


political and social meaning. The dominant discourse permeates all levels of society and works
in covert and overt ways in order to structure society in a certain image. In his introduction to
The Well-Tempered Self, Toby Miller (1993: xiv) writes that a discourse is a set of statements
that determine actions and thoughts. So a given discourse is a particular vocabulary and
grammar that permits the making of choices only within its own rules. It decides what can and
cannot be said, done, or represented. Discourse is one of the ways in which the status quo is
maintained. Voices are given merit only when they are a part of the accepted discourse, all
others are marginalized and silenced.
There are many critics of modernity, both from feminist theorists and from non-
feminist social and political theorists. The next section will look at some of the different
critiques of modernity from theorists such as Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Francois Lyotard,
and Michel Foucault. These male theorists do not specifically address feminist issues, but many
feminists have adapted parts of their theories into theories of their own. Following the section
on the male social and political theorists will be a section on the evolution and diversity of
feminist thought, concluding with the recent development of feminist postmodernism.
Structuralism
In the early twentieth century, a new discourse began to develop. Grenz (1996: 114)
writes that Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ferdinand de Saussure argued that language is not a
private phenomenon, but a social phenomenon, acquiring its meaning in social interaction. This
new view of language became the basis for structuralism. Structuralism searches for the
underlying structures that explain social and historical events and relationships. The meaning
of language is fixed within our cultural and historical time. There is no true independent self,
for everything we know is socially constructed. Not only the text, but the author of the text is
17


nothing more than a construct of history and culture. The way individuals interact with the text
creates individualized meaning. Structuralists do not, however, argue that this construct makes
knowledge impossible. Their goal is to explore the text to find meanings, truths, that were
obscured by previous readings. Structuralists do not deny the existence of a universal truth, but
they do acknowledge that the meaning we make from truth is subjective.
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan is one of the most notable structuralist theorists, his ideas being one of
the foundations for what is now thought of as postmodern theory. As a psychoanalyst Lacan is
interested in the unconscious as a site of repressed meaning. In Lacanian theory the Imaginary
is tied to Freuds pre-oedipal stage. The mirror phase is the first stage of development for
Lacan. The childs first intelligent act is to identify itself with the image in the mirror. The
childs ego splits into the I which is watching and the I which is watched. In the mirror stage
the child has yet to become male or female, for the child has yet to understand language. In the
Imaginary state, Toril Moi (1985: 99) explains, there is no unconscious because there is no lack,
the child does not learn the concept of lack until language teaches him/her the difference
between I am and you are. The second stage for Lacan is the intransitive stage of the
Imaginary. In this stage Lacan reinterprets Freud to view ones development as being a fall
from the blissful state of oneness in the pre-oedipal state, to a state of consciousness brought
about through language. Josephine Donovan (1996: 114) writes that consciousness comes
through the learning of language, the realm of the symbolic, the patriarchal state. The third
stage for Lacan is the transitive stage in which the self becomes namable, it becomes me. This
stage sees the development of desire for another or the mother. The child, through language
becomes aware of the difference between self and other, as well as the difference between male
18


and female. As the child reaches the transitive stage, the child begins to construct a gendered
self based on the misrecognition of his/herself as Other.
In the Imaginary there is no Other, because the concept denotes alienation, an
acknowledgment of a separate self. In the mirror stage the individual begins to see itself in
separation from others. As the child moves through the intransitive stage into the transitive
stage, the child steps into the dualistic relationship of the Other. According to Chris Weedon
(1997: 50) the Other is the position of control of desire, power and meaning. Desire, the
precondition of subjectivity and the motivating principle behind language, is an effect of lack.
The lack of the power to control satisfaction, meaning and the law and the split nature of
subjectivity create the need to symbolize control through language. In identifying with the
Other, the individual mistakenly views the individual as the as the source of meaning and power
over which the self has control. In effect, the self is never completely at ease once it identifies
itself as the Other, for it is always searching for control and fulfillment, which it can never find.
The unconscious desire can never find full satisfaction, and so it will forever continue to search
for contentment.
The self can never be whole again because the symbolic order does not allow it to be
defined as anything but a lack. Lacan believes that society forces our unconscious acceptance of
the symbolic order by giving us no alternative method for making meaning out of our
experiences. The symbolic order for Lacan, Rosemarie Tong (1989: 220) explains, is society,
that system of relationships that antedates us and into which we must fit. Weedon (1997: 50)
continues the explanation by stating that within the symbolic order we are conscious, gendered
subjects, structured by language and the laws and social institutions which language
guarantees. Meaning for Lacan is textual and fixed within location of the phallus. The
signifier of the phallus guarantees that all meaning will be fixed within the patriarchal social
19


order. Through the signifier of the phallus one has power and control over desire. For Lacan,
desire is the motivating factor of the human psyche. The yearning to control and posses is a
main motivating factor for people. Since in reality no one can actually be the Other, one never
is capable of controlling desire. Moi (1985: 101) explains that there can be no final satisfaction
of our desire since there is no final signifier or object the can be that which has been lost forever
(the imaginary harmony with the mother and the world). Men however, are under the illusion
that because they posses the phallus they are capable of having access to positions of power
within the social order of which women are not. Women, due to their physical lack, have no
position within the social order except in relation to men (i.e. motherhood). In Freudian terms,
womens position within the patriarchal order lead to their having penis envy.
Lacans theory is thus problematic for women. Lacan does not break with Freuds
belief that females cannot successfully resolve the Oedipal complex. Women are permanent
outsiders of the symbolic order, to allow them to enter would be to destroy it. Women, Chris
Weedon (1997: 144) writes, are not given the ability to speak within the symbolic order and the
feminine potential is repressed in favor of a patriarchal version of femininity in which male
desire and male interests define and control female sexuality and feminine subjecthood.
Because meaning for Lacan, is defined in relationship to the phallus, women are fixed into a
patriarchal construction of femininity and womanhood.
Poststructuralism/Postmodemism
For some theorists the structuralists did not go far enough in their simple questioning
of the teachings of the Enlightenment. For post-structuralists, the very foundations of the
Enlightenment must be dismantled. The idea of the objective observer is denied, as is the idea
of universal knowledge. In post-structuralism there is no fixed meaning between the signifier
20


and the signified, therefore there are potentially unlimited interpretations of one text. There is
no universal truth, no knowable reality to be understood. Poststructuralists want to know, what
is unrepresented within the dualistic system of modernity? Who and what is privileged and who
and what is ignored in a hierarchical system based on excluding that which does not easily fit
into the accepted paradigm?
Jacques Derrida
Destroying the symbolic order is precisely what Jacques Derrida proposes. Derrida,
Grenz (1996: 139) explains, is a multi-discipline writer whose works oscillate between a
certain playfulness and a deliberate parody of accepted literary conventions. He rejects
philosophys search for meaning and philosophers claim to be objective observers. He views
the search for truth as an exercise in futility because meaning does not exist, it is constructed
through language. Derrida openly questions the nature of language and its relationship to the
world. Language not only represents reality, it shapes our reality. For Derrida language is
phallocentric, logocentric11, and dualistic.
In order to further his critique of modem philosophy, Derrida coined the term
differance. The term differance is used to connote not only differing (passive) but deferring
(active). Language, he argues, is many layered and fluid for both meaning and consciousness
are dependent on language. There is no self separate from language. There is nothing outside
of the text, and no meaning except our own individualized reading of the text. Where Lacan
sees meaning as being made in relationship to the text, but based in desire, and fixed to the
signifier of the phallus, Derrida sees the fluidity of meaning to be based in the concept of
nFrom the word logos, meaning the word, language. Derrida views the written language as the
center of meaning in Western philosophy. He does not agree with modernitys belief that
language corresponds directly to reality.
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differance. Writing, according to Derrida, is not simple representation of speech, for [s]peach
entails the possibility of direct contact with truth; writing entails the realization that we have
no such immediate connection (Grenz 1996: 141). Speech is personal, it is an intimate
connection between the text and the author. Once words are written they are no longer a part of
the writer, the words become independent of the writer and the text is no longer dependent on
the presence of the author. This does not mean, however, that speech is privileged over the
written word, it simply conveys a different meaning.
The method Derrida employees in his assault on modernity is known as
deconstruction12. According to Judith Butler (1991: 159):
To deconstruct the subject is not to negate or throw away the concept; on the contrary,
deconstruction implies only that we suspend all commitments to that to which the term,
the subject, refers, and that we consider the linguistic functions it serves in the
consolidation and concealment of authority. To deconstruct is not to negate or to
dismiss, but to call into question and, perhaps most importantly, to open up a term, like
the subject, to a reusage or redeployment that previously has not been authorized.
Through deconstruction Derrida hoped to dismantle the myths of modernity. Deconstruction of
the text is employed in hopes of showing that nothing has universal truth, for there is always a
deeper level of meaning embedded within the text. It does not destroy the idea of the subject,
but eliminates ideas of a unified or static self. For deconstructionists, the subject is nothing
more than a linguistic function.
Derrida considers the legacy of humanist discourse to be a language based on
hierarchical oppositions: men/women, culture/nature, light/dark. Deconstructionism, Weedon
(1997: 159) writes, seeks to reverse these dualisms in order to displace their systems by
illustrating how discourses, through rhetoric, achieve their effects. Discourse is imbued with
logocentrism, and the critic, including Derrida, cannot be free of the texts predetermined and
12The term deconstruction is very difficult to define. Grenz (1996: 148) writes that according to
Derrida it is not a method, technique, style of literary critique, or even a procedure for textual
interpretation. It is a new and different way of looking at the text.
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hierarchical concepts. The critic can be aware of how the discourse is imbued with historical
and cultural meaning, but can never be free of its influence.
At the root of deconstruction is the denial of any one true universal meaning. All
meanings are plural and fluid and must be acknowledged as being a part of culture and history.
Meaning is not ahistorical, instead, history takes a part in the construction of how each
individual views reality. Jonathan Culler argues that [d]econstruction couples a philosophical
critique of history and historical understanding with the specification that discourse is historical
and meaning historically determined, both in principle and practice (qtd in Weedon 1997:
160). Meaning is formed through the relationship between the text and the individual; there is
no such thing as an essential, ahistorical narrative.
Derrida, Tong (1989: 222) asserts, hoped to free language from its singularity, but
because he himself was using the logocentric, phallocentric13, binary language that constricted
his thought, Derrida was ultimately pessimistic about winning the revolution he was
fomenting. Derrida did not come up with a solution, but his belief that resistance is possible
through revealing the gap between the creation and the meaning of the text has been a starting
point for a number of postmodern theorists.
Jean-Francois Lyotard
In their article on feminism and postmodernism, Nancy Fraser and Linda J. Nicholson
(1990: 21) write that unlike many of the social and political theorists considered to be
postmodern, Jean-Frangois Lyotard not only openly embraces his connection with
postmodernism, he has introduced the term into current philosophical, political, and social
13Derrida coined the term phallogocentric, a composite of logocentrism and phallocentrism. This
composite word declares the inextricable collusion of phallocentrism with logocentrism...and
unites feminism and deconstructive, grammatological philosophy in their opposition to a
common enemy (qtd in Donovan 1996: 114).
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debates. In many ways his book, The Postmodern Condition (1979), has become the
quintessential, but highly debated, work on postmodernism. This work brought the postmodern
debate to the fore of contemporary social and political theory and has influenced numerous
theorists, although only some admit to being postmodernists. His critique of the grand
narratives of science, philosophy, history, and the like leads to a questioning of all modernity
takes for granted as truth. His goal is not to try to explain postmodernism as a separate
phenomenon from modernism, but as part of it.
Lyotards work is far reaching and covers numerous areas of philosophy, politics, and
social criticism. In brief, Lyotard argues that political and social criticism cannot be grounded
in philosophy. Theory must break away from the foundationalism of modernity. Political and
social theory is no longer viewed as being universal, it is historical, local, and pragmatic. The
Enlightenment has left us with metanarratives that are so encompassing that we do not even
question their legitimization of what is and is not acceptable. Fraser and Nicholson (1990: 22)
explain that the metadiscourse narrates a story about the whole of human history which
purports to guarantee that the pragmatics of the modem sciences and of modem political
processthe norms and rales which govern these practices, determining what counts as a
warranted move within themare themselves legitimate. This self legitimization is highly
problematic for Lyotard. He argues against the idea that any discursive practice is ahistorical,
universal, and capable of yielding true results. The truth and justice of these metanarratives are
built on the silences of all other discourses.
A metadiscourse, he claims, is no more legitimate than any other discourse, and theory
must recognize this fact. His goal, Seyla Benhabib (1990: 112) clarifies, is to convince society
that the destruction of the epitome of representation allows only one option, namely, a
recognition of the irreconsilability and incommensurability of language games and the
24


acceptance that only local and context-specific criteria of validity can he formulated. Language
is agnostic, deriving its meaning not from natural relationships or simply from social constructs,
but from individual interactions between the self and language. Lyotard believes that the
postmodern era will be a time of great changes and invention. This innovation, Grenz (1996:
49) contends, is bom of dissension, not consensus. The metanarratives of modernity creates
consensus and silences the voices of invention. Lyotard desires multiple incompatible language
games and embraces plurality.
Lyotard then leaves theorists with several problems. First of all there is the problem of
legitimization. If there is no universal, normalizing social and political theory, legitimacy
becomes individualized, localized and embedded in practice. Even such categories as gender,
race, class and ethnicity are to be avoided. This is problematic for feminists who believe that
gender categories are the source of their oppression. Lyotard embraces a justice of multiplicity,
denying any individual identification with a large, but as he views it, constrictive group. In her
article Epistemologies of Postmodernism: A Rejoinder to Jean-Frangois Lyotard, Seyla
Benhabib (1990: 123) is very critical of Lyotards work. She argues that his view is too limited
because society is viewed as either a harmonious whole, or the straggles within it are seen as
being simply performances, denying the very real consequences of political struggles. The
oppression of women is seen as either non existent or as a chimera. Lyotard denies that a
person/theory can identify and scrutinize institutional structures of inequality and injustice. His
agnostic approach, Benhabibs (1990: 113) criticism continues, either leads to a polytheism of
values, from which standpoint the principle of performity or emancipation cannot be criticized,
or this philosophy does not remain wholly polytheistic but privileges one domain of discourse
and knowledge over others as a hidden criterion. For many, Lyotard is either unacceptably
relativistic, or simply incoherent. For feminists, the idea that womens oppression is simply a
25


construct with no connection with real life experiences, and with no foundation for
emancipatory action, is unacceptable.
Whether or not a theorist embraces or critiques Lyotard, postmodernism has produced a
strong, if diverse following. Its influences are broad, but there are arguments as to who even
constitutes a postmodernist theorists. While many theorists have been put in the postmodernists
camp, Judith Butler (1991: 151) reminds us that:
Lacanian psychoanalysis in France positions itself officially against postsructuralism,
that Kristeva denounces postmodernism, that Foucaultians rarely relate to Derrideans,
that Cixous and Irigaray are fundamentally opposed, and that the only tenuous
connection between French Feminism and deconstruction exists between Cixous and
Derrida, although a certain affinity in textual practices is to be found between Derrida
and Irigaray.
Rosmarie Tong (1989: 218) explains the coherence of postmodern theorists by stating that most
of the theorists who are considered to be postmodernists agree that deconstruction of the
dominant systems of thought will illuminate certain internal contradictions that bring into
question notions of authorship, identity, and selfhood. Its unlikely roots include Freud, but not
with an unquestioning acceptance of his theories. Freuds hypothesis and observations are
interpreted symbolically, with language being a tool of the male symbolic order.
Michel Foucault
One of the most influential of all postmodern theorists is Michel Foucault. Foucaults
work covers a variety of topics14 and defies categorization. In fact, to defy classification is
Foucaults goal. Foucault writes to escape the self, not to define it. In his own words: Do not
ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same (qtd in McNay 1994: 1). It is good
advice, for Foucaults theory evolved throughout the years, and his work in the 1950s is
14The purpose of this section is not to give a complete recounting of the works and theories of
Michel Foucault, but to give a brief overview of those ideas which have greatly influenced
postmodernist thought and especially those that most concern postmodern feminists.
26


strikingly different than his work of the early 1980s. His early works, Madness and Civilization
(1961), The Birth of a Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), and The Archaeology of
Knowledge (1971), all employed the archaeological approach. In his later work he changed his
approach to genealogy and wrote Discipline and Punish (1975) and The History of Sexuality,
Volumes I (1976), II (1984), and III (1984). His final works employed the method of
govemmentality as discussed in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (ed. G.
Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller 1991) and Remarks on Marx (1991).
A follower of Nietzsche, Foucault is concerned with power relations and how these
unjust and oppressive relations are subtlety upheld by social practices embraced by all, even
those most oppressed by the system. Foucault does not believe in setting up a utopian society
based on Enlightenment ideals of community and humanity, but instead, Grenz (1996: 137)
writes, seeks a continual questioning of the existing order and believes that thought,
interpretation, discourse, and language pose a great a threat of enslavement as any social
system. His starting point for analysis is the richness and variety of reality; he sees a
complexity to life that is ignored by humanist discourse. Reason and rational discourse call for a
false homogeneity; Foucault celebrates diversity in order to fight against modernitys forced
conformity. Grenz (1996: 20) asserts that for Foucault, everything is defined within a historical
flux, completely renouncing the Enlightenment idea of the objective observer. Foucault attacks
the idea that there are firm foundations upon which truth, knowledge, and reality can be built,
for the universe has no center, there is only the incommensurable diversity of the postmodern
heterotopia (Grenz 1996: 20). Foucault does not wish to work within any existing order, but to
continually attack the very idea of there being order.
What, Foucault asks, is the role of human nature within society? Due to the fact the
texts are infinitely complex, how do people construct meaning? What I am afraid of about
27


humanism is that it presents a certain form of our ethics as a universal model for any kind of
freedom. I think that there are more secrets, more possible freedoms, and more inventions in
our future than we can imagine in humanism as it is dogmatically represented on every side of
the political rainbow (qtd. in Sawicki 1996: 173). For Foucault, language is the world, altering
to fit the needs of whoever controls the dominant discourse. There is no transcendental signified
to which a signifier refers. Discourse for Foucault, Grenz (1996: 132) explains, which is rooted
in power constructions, represents the world, within a historical context, bringing objects into
being by identifying, specifying, and defining them. Humanist discourse has invented such
concepts as man and history. In Foucault: A Critical Introduction, Lois McNay (1994: 55)
writes that according to Foucault, man is a recent invention (post-16th century) and may also
be only a transient preoccupation of contemporary thought. Humanity, his attack on
modernity continues, is a fiction created to control society. Even our very bodies are constructed
by and through language. History is nothing more than a Western myth constructed by those in
power to convince humanity that everything is the way it should be for the benefit of all. We are
all constructs of history, language, and culture.
Foucault denies the very foundations of modernity. For him there is no such thing as
the disinterested observer. He disavows the objectivity and unquestionable truth of science.
Power, he argues, produces knowledge, and truth is nothing more than a construct of power
structures. Stanley Grenz (1996: 6) elaborates on Foucaults argument: because knowledge is
always the result of the use of power, to name something is to exercise power and hence to do
violence to what is named. Foucault, Grenz (1996: 131) continues, argues that Western
scholars have been making three fundamental errors: (1) that an objective body of knowledge
exists and is waiting to be discovered, (2) that they actually posses such knowledge and that it is
neutral or value-free, and (3) that the pursuit of knowledge benefits all humankind rather than
28


just a specific class. Knowledge is not value free or neutral, and who benefits from it depends
on why the research was done and for whom. For Foucault, power/knowledge are inseparable
terms, for knowledge is not an abstract nor objective realm of exploration, but, McNay (1994:
27) writes, a product of power relations and an instrument of their construction. To pretend
neutrality is to uphold the symbolic order.
Foucault begins his exploration with an archaeological approach to the study of the
development of modern thought. This approach follows no set disciplinary approach to
research. He argues that informal rules of inquiry are not inferior to the more formal discourse
of pure reason. The archaeological method rethinks the relationships of events which traditional
historical enquiries view an unimportant or unrelated. It is not bound by the constraining limits
of the categories of history, philosophy, literature, or the like. This way, Foucault is able to look
at the connection between topics previously viewed as unrelated, i.e. biology and linguistics. It
is an attempt to expose a positive unconscious of knowledge, or episteme15.
According to Steve Smith (1994: 4), this method relies on a scholarly detachment from
the subject matter, with the aim of showing how discursive practices operate in history.
History is not viewed as a smooth evolution as humanity progresses toward a utopian ideal, but
as violent twists and leaps from one restraining arrangement to another. Modem thought is no
closer to the tmth than the ideas held by theorists in any other period in history. History is seen
as individual biographies, told from the perspective of an individual who is historically and
culturally situated. McNay (1994: 55) notes that the archaeological analysis takes a step
behind the notion of the author in order to examine the discursive structures that determine the
15 According to the idea of a positive unconscious of knowledge, every era has its own diverse
and heterogeneous rules of discourse which are unconsciously practiced by those within the
discursive practice. The epistome is anterior to words or anything else connoting meaning.
Lois McNay (1994: 52) writes that the epistome is the condition of possibility of discourse in a
given period; it is an a priori set of rules of formation that allow discourses to function, that
allow different objects and different themes to be spoken at one time but not at another.
29


utterances of the author. The priority of the observing subject is denied because knowledge is
viewed as a discursive practice.
The weapon Foucault develops in the middle of his career to use against modernity is
genealogy. Through genealogy Foucault hopes to discover how the certain concepts and beliefs
of a given discipline came into being. What is the philosophy of a certain historical event?
Modernity, he argues, does nothing except mask truths, it does not reveal them. The discourse
of modernity focuses on unity, in contrast, Grenz (1996: 136) notes, Foucaults genealogy
focuses on the discontinuity between the past and the present in order to subvert the
legitimization of the present order which historiography claims to provide. Power is seen as
permeating all levels of social interaction; no one is free from power.
Foucault sees a distinct difference between the notions of domination and power. The
term domination connotes a hopeless situation, one where resistance is impossible. Power, on
the other hand, Jana Sawicki (1996: 170) writes, refers to relations that are flexible, mutable,
fluid, and even reversible. Where there is domination there can be no change, where there is
power there is always the possibility. In Feminism and Empowerment: A Critical Reading of
Foucault, Monique Deveaux (1994: 233) recognizes that there is however, no escape from
power relations, for there is absolutely no social or personal relation which can escape
permeation by power. Foucaults definition of power requires a free subject, one which has a
choice in how he/she responds and responds to the diversity of life. Power then, is seen as being
free from violence and domination, for violences only purpose is to force and/or destroy.
Violence does not allow for choice. When power structures become so forceful and restrictive
that all options are closed to the individual, this is no longer power, but domination.
With the genealogical approach, Foucault is interested not in what is written, but what
was not written, or was not done in human history. History is, as Grenz (1996: 130) writes, a
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Western myth that we need to lay to rest. It is nothing more than the result of contending
power structures; it is not objective and it is not absolute truth. History has a lot less to do with
reality than it does with perspective.
The question Foucault struggles with is why do we participate willingly in our own
oppression? His answer is that we are all entangled within the microphysics16 of power. Power
is not exerted from the top down, for this structure always fails eventually, but is upheld from
below and within each individual relationship. Control is achieved not simply by threats and
overt authority structures, but through normalization. Governments use the concept of biopower
to control their population. Biopower sees the individuals body as a machine, a producer of
goods in an economic setting. McNay (1994: 116) reports that for Foucault biopower takes as
its target the biological processes of the collective social body by attempting to increase life
expectancy, birthrate, levels of health, etc. Social welfare is done for the benefit of the state.
According to Deveaux (1994: 229), judicial authority is viewed as giving way to a normalizing
society where concerns of political rights gives way to life rights (food, health, sexuality, birth
control, the fulfillment of basic needs). The desires and needs of individuals are constructed to
be within the best interest of the state. What is so insidious about the states disciplinary power,
Jana Sawicki (1996: 161) argues, is its ability to grasp the individual at the level of its self-
understanding. The people have to believe in the power structures, accept them fully, and
pressure others to conform in order for control to be achieved. Power in this context is
individualized and internalized at the very level of self-consciousness. According to Foucault,
this allows for a certain amount of freedom and individual control. For him there is no
difference between autonomy and internalized domination, for we can never know the difference
16Most researchers focus on the macrophysics of power, but Foucault is more interested in the
relationships of power which surround us every day. For Foucault, McNay (1994: 3) notes,
power underlies all social relations from the institutional to the intersubjective and is a
fundamentally enabling force. Power is a positive and diverse phenomenon.
31


between what is our true self and what is socially created. Foucault argues that wherever
there is power, there is resistance, but one has to wonder if there can be resistance if there is no
autonomous self?
Foucault argues against conformity through the notions of normality. He is critical of
the Western idea of the rational self. Rationality is an oppressive system which silences voices
which seek for other ways of thinking and being. Those who do not conform are labeled
psychotic and are removed from society. In Madness and Civilization Foucault shows how
society marginalizes and even brutalizes those who do not conform to the idea of the Western
self, creating the category of the other. Foucault takes an anti-essentialist approach to the idea
of the self, the intellectual and the physical self. The subject is an effect of discourse, it is not
central to it. Our thoughts are embedded in social relations, and as he explores in The History
of Sexuality: An Introduction, even sexuality is historically specific. Within the discourse of
modernity thought has no depth because our oppressive system forces normality. We are unable
to think creatively, free of historical, cultural, and linguistic barriers.
For Foucault, transgression is located in language. In the Archaeology of Knowledge
he claims that actions only receive meaning once they are labeled and classified. Discourse is
privileged over non-discursive events. Modernist discourse has been based on the idea that there
is a dualistic nature between fiction and non-fiction, non-fiction telling true stories. Fiction,
Foucault believes, has the ability to function in truth. Foucault (1980: 193) writes that it
cannot be absolute truth, for that does not exist, but the possibility exists for a fictional
discourse to induce effects of truth, and for bringing it about that a true discourse engenders or
manufactures something that does not as yet exist, that is fictions it. Truth is not the same
as historical accuracy, but an exploration into the manufacturing of meaning.
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One of the last concepts Foucault dealt with is the idea of governmentality. McNay
(1994: 85) points out that his earlier method of archaeology failed to incorporate a theory of
power into the analysis of discourse; with genealogy Foucault changes his view of power as a
purely negative force, to a positive one. In governmentality he overcomes some of the limits of
these monolithic views, reconceptualizing power as an agnostic17 struggle taking place between
free individuals.
Lois McNay (1994: 117) explains that this new paradigm describes modern society as
characterized by a triangular power complex: sovereignty-discipline-govemment. The state
keeps control over its population not simply through threats and overt shows of strength, but
more importantly through indirect methods of normalization and socialization. Power is not
simply an institutional and restraining creation, but is internal and external, to both the state
and the self. Power is both objectifying and subjectifiying, limiting the individuals possibilities
but also defining the individuals conditions for freedom. Continuing his explanation, McNay
(1994: 7) writes that according to Foucault, power exists within individual relationships, it is
multidimensional and heterogeneous. In the genealogical approach the category of the subject is
replaced with that of the body, and resistance is not truly possible because there is no category of
self upon with the notion of active agency can be formed.
With governmentality Foucault addresses some of the problems of his earlier work,
differentiating more plainly between violence, domination and the types of power that
characterize relations between individuals. Foucault also is able to form a theory of resistance
based on the ideas of an ethics of the self. This idea McNay (1994: 7) writes, is situated in
the interstices of power relations, at the level of individuals daily practices. Governmentality
is not simply interested in the relationship of the state and its citizens, but between free people
17The idea of agnostic power claims that resistance is always part of power. It argues for the
existence of a free subject, a move away from his belief in the constant state of subordination.
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and ones relationship with him/herself. Through a critical ontology of the self it becomes
possible to become an autonomous individual capable of independent thought and actions. The
state employs many different types of control over the individual and is probably not even
conscious of many of them. Without these constraints there would, in the modernist view, be
nothing but anarchy. For those who do not easily conform, there are overt forms of control, such
as the police. These overt representations of power work in conjunction with more covert forms
of control in order to form the modem state.
Feminists have found many of Foucaults ideas useful. For Monique Deveaux (1994:
224) and many other feminist theorists, the idea that the body is a political field inscribed and
constituted by power relations is of particular interest. Foucault discusses the concept of the
normalizing gaze in which people are forced to play the role of self surveillance in order not to
be marginalized. Women are seen as their own worst enemies, conforming to patriarchal
notions of femininity and womanhood and ostracizing other women who step outside of the
boundaries. Foucault, like many feminist theorists, distinguishes between the public and private
spheres. The private, he acknowledges is controlled by public discourse. Foucaultian theory
acknowledges that patriarchal power controls the institutions of marriage, motherhood,
heterosexuality and the sexual division of labor. Social and political discourse is viewed as a
product of hegemonic power. Jana Sawicki (1996:160) argues that his analytic of
power/knowledge could be used to further feminist explorations into the dynamics of patriarchal
power at the most intimate levels of experience in the institutions of marriage, motherhood, and
compulsory heterosexuality and in the everyday rituals and regimens that govern womens
relationships to themselves and their bodies. Feminists who utilize Faucaultian theory do so in
order to open a space for resistance for those ignored by traditional theory. Because Foucault
believes that where there is power there is resistance, feminists argue that his theory can be used
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for womens emancipation. Questioning is seen as a subversive act for it can alter the
process(es) of normalization.
Feminists who argue against the use of Foucaultian theory point to the fact that he does
not distinguish between the male and female existence. His theory is gender blind and
ethnocentric, not acknowledging that power is imposed upon the male and female body
differently. For feminists, power and domination are not separate identities, but are intricately
woven together18. Feminist such as Nancy Harstock argue that because Foucault does not
specifically address the problems of women, he cannot be used in feminist theory. Broader
arguments against Foucault point out the fact that he does not allow for the epistemological and
moral foundations which are necessary for emancipation. He rejects modern foundationalist
epistemologies and his anarchistic tendencies position everyone against everyone. Foucaults
identity politics produce problems of social construction: what does it mean to be a woman? A
free subject is not the same as an autonomous subject, and so feminists are left with problems of
agency. Feminists are left wondering if it is possible to form a collective resistance, and if they
can come together without a unitary identity, against whom and for what?
Foucault is viewed by his critics as being relativistic, nihilistic, pessimistic, and
androcentric. Sawicki (1996:165) points out that he is skeptical about our ability to control
history and does not believe that total emancipation is possible, but does believe that it is
possible to alter particular normalizing practices and thereby making particular lives more
tolerable. His supporters do not wholly deny these charges, but they argue that it is a limited
view of his theory. Foucault argues that constraints are necessary for society to function, they
are only intolerable when they cannot be changed. He writes that the important question is not
18For an in depth analysis of this argument see Monique Deveauxs (1994) Feminism and
Empowerment: A Critical Reading of Foucault. In this article she uses the issues of rape and
domestic violence to illustrate the limits of Foucaults division between power and dominance.
35


whether a culture without restraints is possible or even desirable but whether the system of
constraints in which a society functions leaves individuals the liberty to transform the system
(qtd. in Sawicki 1996: 170). Power is not just domination and subordination, but an intricate
blend of agnostic power relations that must continually be questioned.
Postmodernism. The postmodern critique of modernity is far reaching. Linda J.
Nicholson (1990: 3) notes that with its outright denial of the possibility of research objectivity as
its starting point, its critique then goes to focus on such diverse elements as the modem sense
of the self and subjectivity, the idea of history as linear and evolutionary, and the modernist
separation of art and mass culture. All research is biased due to the researchers own values,
goals, and experiences as well as her/his own cultural and historical moment. Each community
is seen as creating its own truth. Grenz (1996: 14) writes that postmodernists believe that these
multiple communities with their multiple truths can coexist if we just let them. The hierarchical
nature of modernity does not allow for the existence of pluralistic communities. One view of
reality is always given precedence over all others, silencing dissident voices through
enculturation, labeling them deviant, or simply destroying them. The postmodern approach
seeks out the silenced voices and works to create a space for them to be heard. Modernity is
only one way to look at things, and because of its violent suppression of dissension it is not to be
tolerated. The Symbolic Order must be destroyed through perpetual questioning.
The first step for a postmodernist is to deconstruct social structures, including the
language which upholds and defines its ideals. Language can never tell us the truth, it can
only approximate a societys belief in a certain reality. Rosemarie Tong (1989: 219) explains
that deconstruction is antiessentialist not only in viewing the search for universal definitions as
useless, but also in actively challenging the traditional boundaries between oppositions such as
36


reason/emotion, beautiful/ugly, and self/other as well as between disciplines such as art, science,
psychology, and biology. Patriarchal society is based on forming a dualism between that which
is seen as being good and that which is viewed as bad for the society it desires. While neither
Lacan, Lyotard, Derrida, nor Foucault are feminist theorists, their thoughts on questioning the
symbolic order are a base upon which postmodern feminism has been (un)built.
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CHAPTER 3
CONTENTIONS IN FEMINIST THEORY
Feminist Theory and Modernity
Just as postmodernist thought evolved out of the Enlightenment, so has feminist theory.
Sir Isaac Newtons law of gravity may seem a strange place to find the roots of feminist thought,
but as Josephine Donovan (1996: 2) writes, the idea that reality can be broken down to a few
mathematical constantsthat the physical universe can be broken down into simple, rational
laws was, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, applied to the moral, political, and
the aesthetic world. Political philosophers used this idea to form a doctrine of natural rights.
The idea, made famous in the American Declaration of Independence, that all men are created
equal with certain inalienable rights, became the basis for almost all political and social theory
of the modernist period. While men were seen as independent individuals, all were seen as
being capable of logical and rational thought. Women, as previously noted, were not considered
logical and rational, and therefore, were not included in the doctrine of natural rights.
As long as there has been history, there have been stories of women who refuse to be
limited by their sex. The Bible tells us stories about Ruth, Judith, and Deborah, and secular
history gives us Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Queen Elizabeth II. These and numerous other
women have proved throughout the ages that women are intelligent, motivated and capable.
These women are the exceptions to the rule not because other women are not capable, but
because social conventions have deemed women unsuitable for public life. In 1776, when the
United States was being formed, Abigail Adams wrote her husband urging him to give women
38


the same rights and freedoms and men19. She was unsuccessful; women in the United States
were not given the right to vote until, after a long and hard fought battle, the 19th Amendment
was passed in 1920. The suffragists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sarah
Grimke, and Lucretia Mott were the first wave of feminism20. The second wave of feminism did
not arise until the 1960s and is marked by the publication of Betty Friedans The Feminist
Mystique in 1963. This is not to say that women did nothing to work against social and political
oppression between 1920 and 1963, but that these dates mark periods in which women were
most active in both theory and practice. While many view feminism as a homogenous
movement, its goals, theories and methods are diverse and sometimes antagonistic.
One of the problems facing the feminist movement is the idea of creating a self-
consciousness that binds women together within an emancipatory movement. If feminists argue
that all women are fundamentally the same, there are inevitably a number of women who do not
feel that the movement includes them. Thus the issue of identity becomes fundamental for
feminists. Identity has numerous connotations and Hanna Papanek (1994: 42) warns us to take
into account that in order for it to be useful, one must define identity very carefully:
[0]ne defines identity in its broadest sense to include both such socially defined and
often visible characteristics as race, gender, and ethnicity as well as other aspects of
19 See Abigail Adams letter Remember the Ladies written in 1776, reprinted in The Feminist
Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir, edited by Alice S. Rossi (Boston: Northeastern University
Press, 1988) 7-15.
20 This thesis is not about the first wave of feminism, but the evolution of feminist thought in the
second wave. For more information on the womens suffrage movement see Ida Husted Harper
(1922) History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 5. New York: J. J. Little and Ives: and Aileen S.
Kraditor (1971) The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement 1890-1920. Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday Anchor Books. In Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political
Thought (1981: 233), Jean Bethke Elshtain discusses in great detail why the suffragist
movement failed to make any substantial social and political changes because of their change
from agreements based on justice to arguments based on expediency. Josephine Donovan in
Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism (1996: 27) also discusses
that these early liberal feminists did not consider that the division of public and private might
interfere with a womans ability to enjoy equal rights and opportunities even once the laws were
changed.
39


groups and individuals, such as belief systems, worldviews, ideologies, and religions,
that are not always considered part of identity but that increasing form the bases of
major cleavages among people.
Identity is many layered. There are numerous social, biological, cultural, and historical
influences which go into creating a persons individual identity. The creation of a group
identity, such as feminist identity, is even more difficult because of all the complexity involved.
Patriarchal definitions of womanhood connote a subordinate relationship to men on
several levels. In order to understand the postmodern feminist debate it is necessary to define
some of the patriarchal terms it is fighting against. The problem of essentialism, the belief in a
fixed female essence, is very complex with numerous assertions which permeate society on
conscious and unconscious levels. Connected to the idea of essentialism is biologism.
Biologism, Grosz (1994: 84) notes, ties the essential nature of women to her biology, linking
women closely to the functions of reproduction and nuturance, although it may also limit
womens social possibilities through the use of evidence from neurology, neurophysics, and
endocrinology. Identity is located in biology and all women are biologically different, and
inferior, to all men. Naturalism argues for the fixed nature of women based not necessarily on
biological grounds, but on theological or ontological convictions. Chandra Talpade Mohanty
(1991: 55) argues that if feminism relies on the assumptions of women as an already
constituted, coherent group with identical interests and desires, regardless of class, ethnic or
racial location, or contradictions, [it] implies a notion of gender or sexual difference or even
patriarchy which can be applied universally or even cross-culturally. Almost all of todays
feminists theorists argue that the unproblemitized category of woman is ethnocentric, classist,
and ahistoric. The word woman does not take into account how the reality of womens
resistance changes over time and location. Grenz (1996: 93) recognizes that any theory of
femininity, any definition of women in general, and description that abstracts from the
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particular historical, cultural, ethnic, and class positions of particular women, verges perilously
close to essentialism. Women cannot be universally defined across historical and cultural lines,
to do so ignores the very real complexity of womens lives, it ignores difference between and
within women.
While some feminist theorists hold to essentialist traditions, most argue that men and
women are socialized into a system that creates opposing gender categories. As Catherine
MacKinnon (1987: 3) asserts, to treat gender as difference (with or without a French accent)
means to treat it as a bipolar distinction, each pole of which is defined in contrast to the other by
opposed intrinsic attributes. As Derrida noted, bipolar distinctions are inevitably hierarchical
in nature. Men have been the privileged, the ones allowed to be involved in the political and
social discourses of society. Women, have been relegated to the domestic sphere where, Tong
(1989: 23) writes, society has deemed that in order to be normal, as well as moral, women need
to choose marriage and motherhood over self-gratification, i.e. career. This system is not
supportive of womens education, independence, or her sexual reproductive rights. The freedom
for women to vote, to get a secondary education, to remain single, to use birth control, to have
some control over their own lives, has been hard fought, and is still being fought.
The problem in fighting for womens emancipation is that it is hard to know what to
fight against. What feminists need to know, Catherine MacKinnon (1987: 2) writes, is how
this system gives each women a survival stake in the system that is killing her. Women such as
Phyllis Schafley are proof that is it not just men who feel that they have a stake in supporting the
status quo. Those women who oppose womens emancipation strongly believe in essential
differences between the two genders. These differences are considered natural differences, based
on the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve (Genesis Chapter 2) and supported by the works of such
men as Aristotle, St. Augistine, and Rousseau. On the other hand, feminists such as
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MacKinnon (1987: 8) believe that difference is the velvet glove on the iron fist of domination.
The discourse of difference is nothing more than rhetoric used to keep women subjugated. How
to fight against this rhetoric differs depending on what school of feminist though one follows.
The problem now faced by feminists is how to develop an emancipatory theory for
women if there is no coherent definition of what it is to be a woman. If there is no unifying
nature, how do women form a collective? Can feminism claim to be any better than patriarchy
in that it normalizes and categorizes into singular groups with no regard for race, class, sexual
orientation, religion, or ethnicity? The anti-essentialist movement, which stresses difference, is,
Fraser (1992: 6) writes, provoking worries about whether women share any common conditions
or common interests at all, and if not, about whether any common action is possible. A
collective identity is necessary at some level if feminism is to survive. The postmodern feminist
Christine Sylvester (1994: 55) argues that to denaturalize gender must not be tantamount to
erasing the gendered (among other things) person standing before you. In the world we live in
we are gendered beings no matter how much we try to deconstruct the reality that formed us.
Even if we find a way to view ourselves in non-essentialist terms, society classifies the human
race into categories of male and female. The question remains, is there any way to form an
identity without relying on patriarchal and essentialized categorizations of what it is to be a
woman?
Before discussing how to address the problems of feminist identity and how postmodern
feminists approach the problem, it is important to look at some of the different forms of feminist
thought. Liberal feminism, cultural feminism, Marxist/socialist feminism, existentialist
feminism, psychoanalytical feminism, and radical feminism are just some of the different types
of theories employed by feminists in their effort to critique and change modernity. All are
unique in their ways of why women are oppressed and what women need in order to become
42


emancipated; and all have their problems. For this thesis I am only going to discuss the tenets
of liberal feminism, Marxist/socialist feminism, and radical feminism in any detail. These three
schools of feminist thought have had the most impact on the field of international relations, and
their ideologies have been used in the feminist debate of development theory. Psychoanalytic
feminism will be briefly discussed in context with feminist postmodern theory. This section is
not a comprehensive overview of feminist theory, but a recounting of some of its most prominent
thinkers and a brief overview of some of its schools of thought and their promises and problems.
Liberal Feminism
Liberal feminism is one of the earliest schools of feminist thought. It is important to
understand because it is the failings of liberal ideology which have given rise to most other
feminist ideologies. Generally, liberalism is closely tied to the Enlightenment ideals of natural
rights, liberty, and independence. Liberalism in its feminist form is concerned mostly with
equal rights and equal opportunities for women. It does not call for a radical remaking of the
social and political world. Liberal feminism asks simply for inclusion, for an end of a pro-male
bias. For liberalists, Tong (1988: 2) explains, female subordination is rooted in a set of
customary and legal constraints that blocks womens entrance and/or success in the so-called
public world. Using Enlightenment ideology, liberal feminists argue that women are rational
human beings deserving of inclusion in public society.
The roots of liberal feminism really lie within the industrial Revolution. In the 18th
century, jobs moved out of the home and into large factories. A new class of women started to
appear. These married, bourgeois woman had economic stability, but had some free time and
some were even able to gain access to some education. Outside income generating work was
unessential, and many had servants which made even domestic work unnecessary. According to
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Mary Wollstonecraft, being a middle-class lady is to sacrifice health, liberty, and virtue for
whatever prestige, pleasure, and power a husband can provide (Tong 1989: 14). The idea that
women should be socialized simply to serve as domestic servants for men is very disturbing for
liberal feminists. Women, they argue, are as capable as men of rational thought and should be
educated in order to stimulate their intellectual growth. A kept woman is of no use to her
society or her family.
Rosemarie Tong (1989: 11) argues that liberalism assumes that people are rational
beings, capable of creating a just society where individuals are allowed the autonomy to work for
their own good. Individual rights are to be supported as long as those rights do not infringe
upon the rights of others. Classical liberals believe that the government has no role in civil
society except to provide all individuals with equal access to the free market. Feminists of the
classical liberal school believe that there is nothing more to be done as far as womens
emancipation is concerned. Laws, they argue, can be made, but no one can be forced to change
his/her beliefs and actions. Institutionalized sexism is a fact of life and women will just have to
deal with it.
Most liberal feminists however, do believe that more systematized changes will
eventually lead to lasting social change. Liberal feminists, as referred to for the remainder of
this paper, follow a more welfare liberal ideology, believing that due to unequal abilities and
opportunities, the government must provide economic and legal intervention in the form of such
programs as Medicare, Social Security, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Their
concern is for the day to day needs of women and their children.
Liberal welfare feminists argue that it is the governments responsibility to eliminate
institutionalized sexism. Feminists of this school claim that quotas and preferential hiring are
necessary to ensure that women are given an opportunity to prove themselves. This is only to be
44


a transitional measure, to be discarded when women have reached de facto equality with men.
How this true equality is to be determined is a question that has yet to be answered.
Both classical and welfare liberal feminist require legal remedies to the problems of sex
discrimination. Androgynous liberal feminists hold that the only way to ensure that no one will
be discriminated against on account of gender, is to get rid of the concept of gender completely.
No matter what sex a person is, they are to be encouraged to show both masculine and feminine
traits. The problem is that this is still based on the idea that there is a difference between
masculine and feminine traits. Rosemarie Tong (1989: 30) firmly believes in the power of
socialized gender roles.
Boys are instructed to be masculine, girls to be feminine. Psychologists,
anthropologists, and sociologists tend to define masculine and feminine in terms of
prevailing cultural stereotypes, which are influenced by racial, class, and ethnic factors.
Thus, to be masculine in the middle-class, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant United
States is, among other things, to be rational, ambitious, and independent; and to be
feminine is, among other things, to be emotional, nurturant, and dependent.
Liberal feminists arguing for monoandrogyny claim that by developing a single personality type
that embodies the best of both male and female gender traits, both men and women can be freed
of the constraints of gender. Other liberal feminists argue for polyandrogyny. For these
feminists there is no unitary personality type; some personalities will be completely masculine,
other completely feminine, while still others will have a mixture of the two.
According to Judith Evans (1995: 14) androgyny for liberal feminists is not just an
ignoring of difference, it means an absence of difference. Men and women are not just to be
given equal opportunities, they are to be the same. It is the ideology behind the liberal feminist
movement which has given women the opportunity to vote, get a college degree, have legal
rights as individuals, obtain abortions, and pushed for the Equal Rights Amendment. Liberal
feminists believe that through legislation social structures and stereotypes can be changed.
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Mary Wollstonecraft. One of the most influential historical works for feminist theorists
is Mary Wollstonecrafts A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). While over two hundred
years old, Wollstonecrafts work is still highly influential for liberal feminists. One of the
earliest women writers to publicly address the need for womens emancipation, Wollstonecrafts
essay shows both how much has changed for women over the last two hundred years, and how
much is still the same.
In her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft has a very
unfavorable opinion of non-productive women, elitist women who neither work outside of the
home or take part in the homes upkeep. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft completed the work that
would forever place her in the ranks of liberal feminist theorists. A Vindication of the Rights of
Women was a rejoinder to someone elses work, Talleyrands .Report on Public Instruction.
Talleyrands main assertion was that girls should only be educated in the public schools until the
age of eight, at which time they should be relegated to the home because that is where they will
spend the rest of their lives. Wollstonecrafts response was quick and its tone one of indignation.
Like all liberal feminists, Rossi (1988: 31) notes, Wollstonecraft felt that both the cause
and the solution to social problems lay in education: ignorance, poverty, prejudice, and sin
arise in the absence of knowledge and will be solved by the spread of education. In this view,
there are no innate racial, sexual, or social class differences among men and women; all
differences are rooted in the social environment and can be eradicated by changes in that
environment. Boys and girls should be similarly educated and class interests would be learned
in a socialist environment. Wollstonecraft did not see ill-educated, upper middle-class women
as being compliments to their husbands, but as silly, irrational, and irresponsible detriments to
their husbands and children. An uneducated woman can only raise uneducated children.
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Wollstonecraft was not arguing for emancipation, Tong (1989: 15) clarifies, but for
educated wives and mothers. Wollstonecraft believes that the truly educated woman is able to
manage her householdespecially the childrenproperly. In several places Wollstonecraft
argues that mens superior physical strength gives them a natural place of superiority above
women. Education, Wollstonecraft writes (1973: 43), is not going to masculinize women, for
their inferior strength does not lend them the courage and fortitude needed, but while this
inferior strength must render them, in some degree, dependent on men in the various relations
of life, it does not give the male sex sole dominion over virtue and rationality.
Mary Wollstonecraft died in 1797, but her legacy has endured over the decades. Today
there are many women who are considered liberal feminists: Betty Friedan, Patricia Ireland,
Bella Abzung, and Susan Okin. This is not a homogenous group, but as Rosmarie Tong (1989:
280) writes, for liberal feminists, the single most important goal of womans liberation is
sexual equality, or as it is sometimes termed, gender justice. Gender is seen as a social
construct, erroneously subjugating women to a position of inferiority. The claims that women
are flighty, emotional, and irrational, have more to do with socialization that with any innate
differences between the sexes.
Society, Tong writes (1989: 29), is structured to treat men and women differently, and
while this socialization may lead to the discrimination of men in some aspectschild care,
nursing, secretarial jobson the whole, society remains structured in ways that favor men and
disfavor women in the competitive race for the good with which our society rewards us: power,
prestige, and money. While men and women may be equal by law, by social practice the
playing field remains uneven. Contemporary liberal feminists agree that these structures must
be changed, but they disagree on how it should be accomplished.
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There are many critics of liberal feminist theory. One of the problems is the fact that
liberal feminism does not call for an actual restructuring of society. Male values are equated
with human values. Catherine MacKinnon (1987: 22) asserts that liberalism defines equality
as sameness. It is comparative. To know if you are equal, you have to be equal to somebody
who sets the standard you compare yourself with. The terms masculine and feminine are not
problemetized, they are assumed and the masculine is still viewed as the norm. Women are to
be allowed into masculine occupations and roles without questioning why these areas are
considered to be masculine in the first place.
By using the doctrine of natural rights, liberal feminists adopt the existing system and
its value system into their own theory. In liberal theory, feminist or not, the intellect is given
priority of the body. The experiences of the body are considered secondary to the thoughts of the
mind. Also inherent in liberal theory is the idea that individual freedom is to be valued above
the common good. Jean Bethke Elshtain (1981: 239) argues that liberal feminists are not
arguing for major changes in the social systems schedule of benefits and rewards: They share
with mainstream defenders of the status quo in political science a set of positivistic presumptions
which define, delimit, structure, and gear their analysis and their conclusions in certain
direction and toward particular ends. The way in which the whole of society interacts is not
discussed, only the needs and desires of the individual are considered. Moya Harrington (1992:
68) argues that the problem feminists see with liberalism thus defined is that the theory
supplies no concern for the fate of individuals beyond their freedom, and that it does not take
sufficient account of the unequal power among contracting parties to exercise freedom.
Liberalism is very Western, elitist, and capitalist, leaving little room for alternate concepts of
society.
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One question posed by some feminist theorists, Tong (1989: 38) notes, is whether or
not liberal feminism is truly feminist in nature. Gender-neutral humanism is given priority over
gender-specific feminism. Mona Harrington (1992: 69) argues that liberalism, by making
individual autonomy its highest value, by relying on contract as its primary process, and by not
recognizing unchosen, group-based systemic inequalities among members of a society, sets in
motion, perpetuates, and legitimizes a social Darwinist order within states and among states.
Women are not center stage, and are viewed within a system of masculinity and domination.
The question liberal feminists ask is how can women be more like men, not how can women be
women, in all their complexity? The sex equality-difference debate is based in modernist
notions of hierarchy and dualism. One must be the same or different, equal or unequal, male or
female. There is no place for slippage, no room for debate, no chance for true change. By
arguing that women must be equal or different from men, feminists of this school are still using
men as the norm to which women must compare themselves.
Jean Bethke Elshtain in Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political
Thought (1981) identifies three major flaws with liberal feminism. Rosemarie Tong (1989: 32)
notes Elshtains critiques liberal feminism because: (1) its claim that women can become like
men if they set their minds to it;(2) its claim that most women want to become like men; and (3)
its claim that all women should want to become like men, to aspire to masculine values.
Elshtains critique poses some very serious questions. Arent there biological differences
between the sexes? Can women transcend nature and do women really want to? Why should
society be ashamed of motherhood? Why cant being a wife and a mother be a fulfilling
identity?
Judith Evans (1995: 3) writes that feminists seeking equality with men do so on the
ground that they are the same as men, but what does this mean? Despite what the Declaration
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of Independence might say, not all men are equal. Nor are all women. Is equality to be based
on physical prowess, intellect, or moral standing? Men are treated differently depending on age,
weight, race, and class. To which men do women want to be treated equally? No matter if a
feminist is arguing for sex equality or difference, she is still using dualistic categories which
created the hierarchical opposition of the sexes in the first place. Or as Catharine MacKinnon
(1987: 8) puts it, gender is an inequality of power, a social status based on who is permitted to
do what to whom...inequality comes first; differences come after. Inequality is substantive and
identifies a disparity; difference is abstract and falsely symmetrical. As Derrida noted, as long
as the emphasis in on the concept of differences, there shall always be differences, and
differences are never equal, but always in hierarchical opposition. Evans (1995: 4) argues that
to compare women with men, to be concerned with the way women differ from men, is to write
not only difference, but inferiority, or at best, deviation from a social standard, into the question
itself. Liberal feminists, with their equality-difference debate, are not bringing into question
the categories of men and women or the social structures which socialize the genders. They are
simply saying that these structures need to be modified to allow equal access.
Marxist/Socialist Feminism
Marxist feminists critique liberal feminism based on its absence of a class analysis.
Marxist feminist theory uses the idea of class struggle as presented by Friederich Engels and
Karl Marx. Tong (1989: 39) writes that Marxist feminists view capitalism as oppressing both
proletariat and bourgeois women and that all women, regardless of class, need to understand
womens oppression as a result of the political, social, and economic structures of capitalism.
Capitalism is viewed as a system of social, political, and economic power structures based on
exploitation, where women are located on the underside of the power relationship.
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Marxist feminism tends to focus on work related issues. In discussing how capitalism
oppresses not just the worker, hut women as a class, Marxist feminists, Tong (1989: 51) asserts,
have tried to explain, among other things, how the institution of the family is related to
capitalism; how womens domestic work is trivialized as not real work; and finally, how women
are generally given the most boring and low-paying jobs. Like liberal feminist theory, Marxist
feminist thought is not a homogenous group. Some feel that housework should be seen as a paid
profession, others ask who would pay for it and ask how would an economic incentive to doing
repetitive and boring work everyday at home benefit women? According to Josephine Donovan
(1996: 77-78) Marxist feminists such as Lise Vogel and Angela Davis see the household as the
only unalienated space in capitalist society, whereas Marxist feminists such as Eli Zarestsky and
Ann Foreman view the domestic sphere as being truly alienating for women in that women are
relegated to be the guardians of human values while men are dedicated to the struggle for
existence.
In contrast to liberalism, Rosemarie Tong (1989: 39) explains, Marxist theory states
that what makes us human is not rational thought, but the ability to produce our means of
subsistence. Men and women, through production, create a society which in turn, shapes them
as individuals. A capitalist economy necessitates a group of citizens who think a certain way
about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The capitalist system is seen as being exploitive and alienating. Employers have a
monopoly on the means of production and they pay only for the labor of the work, not the actual
human and intellectual energy expended by the worker. Workers may have some power in
deciding who to work for, but they have no choice but to work for someone who owns the means
of production. The fragmented and highly specialized work culture of a capitalist society leads
to the alienation of the work force in four ways. First of all, workers are alienated from the
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product of their labor in that they have no say over what is produced and no connection to how
the product is distributed and used after production. Secondly, workers are alienated from
themselves because of the unpleasant and repetitive nature of their work. Work is seen as a
chore to be finished quickly, not something to take pride in doing well. Thirdly, workers are
alienated from each other because of the competitive nature of capitalism. The need to get
ahead encourages workers not to work together, and to actually mistrust each other and isolate
themselves. The fourth way in which worker are alienated is that they are forced to see nature
as a competitor, and obstacle to their survival.
For Marxists, the only way to eliminate alienation is to return to a communal type of
labor. Humans must be seen as being connected to their labor, each other, and nature. Tong
(1989: 45) notes that for Marxist feminists womens alienation is profoundly disturbing
because women experience themselves only as the fulfillment of other peoples needs. They are
workers, and/or mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives first, and individuals second. Marxist
feminists argue that society must be changed so that women experience themselves in all their
connotations as integrated beings instead of as fragmented souls.
In order to do this capitalism must be overthrown. Socialism is seen as humanitys
savior for people are able to both be and do what they wish. No one group of people would
control any other group, and therefore all would be free. Michele Barret writes that the main
goal of Marxist feminism is to identify the operation of gender relations as and where they may
be distinct from, or connected with, the processes of production and reproduction understood by
historical materialism (qtd. in Tong 1989: 47). Marxist theory never accepted womens
oppression as being equal to the oppression of the worker, but Friedrich Engels work The
Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State tried to explain why it is that women are
the oppressed sex.
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Friedrich Engels. Engels The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State is
the basis for much of Marxist feminist theory. According to Engels, the evolution from
hunter/gatherer communities to agriculturist communities and then to industrial communities,
not only changed economies, but also changed the nature of the family! MacKinnon (1989: 19)
writes that according to Engels, women are not socially subordinate because of biological
dependence, but because of the place to which class society relegates their reproductive
capacity. Engels (1993: 166) contends that with the domestication of animals, women lost
their right to their children they lost everything. The overthrow of mother right was the world
historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was
degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for
the production of children. The patriarchal family had emerged, and it became vitally
important for men to be sure of their wives fidelity so that only his children inherited the fruits
of his labor.
Engels views the monogamous family as the sign of civilization. The marriages are
matters of convenience, with the idea of romantic love not being developed until quite recently.
Engels (1993: 167) described the characterizations of the monogamous family in vivid detail:
It is based on the supremacy of the man, the express purpose being to produce children
of undisputed paternity; such paternity is demanded because these children are later to
come into their fathers property as his natural heirs. It is distinguished from pairing
marriages by the much greater strength of the marriage tie, which can no longer be
dissolved at either partners wish. As a rule, it is now only the man who can dissolve it
and put away his wife. The right of conjugal infidelity also remains secured in him, at
any rate by custom,...and as social life develops he exercises his right more and more;
should the wife recall the old form of sexual life and attempt to revive it, she is
punished more severely than ever.
According to Engels, the antagonism between men and women that is a part of the monogamous
marriage also coincides with the first class oppression. The prosperity of some (i.e. husbands,
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landowners, and slave owners) is bom out of the exploitation of others (i.e. wives, laborers,
slaves).
For Marxist feminists, Engels idea concerning the legal and social inequality of
husbands and wives is of great interest, if not without its problems. Modern capitalist society is
based on the monogamous family structure, with the wife as domestic slave. Engels (1993: 169)
asserts that in todays family structures, especially in the middle and upper classes, the husband
is the bourgeois and the wife the proletariat.
Socialist Feminism. Some categorize socialist feminism as being entirely separate from
Marxist feminism, while others view socialist feminism as a natural progression form Marxist
feminism. I am not going to into great detail as to the differences between the two, but will
note, as Tong (1989: 173) does, that socialist feminism is largely the result of Marxist
feminists dissatisfaction with the essentially gender-blind character of Marxist thought.
Marxist theory explains how capitalism created the separation of the public (production) from
the private (reproduction) but not why women are assigned to the domestic sphere while men to
the workplace. Socialist feminists address womens oppression directly using not just Marxist
analysis, but also radical and psychoanalytical concepts, trying to broaden their basis of analysis
concerning womens emancipation.
Engels work is problematical for many feminists, and socialist feminism does not take
Marxist presumptions unequivocally. As Josephine Donovan (1996: 65) writes, Marx was
concentrating primarily on men and masculine circumstances when he developed his theory,
and therefore the legitimacy of applying such to women may be intrinsically suspect. Marxist,
socialist and liberal feminist theorists, MacKinnon (1989: 20) notes, all interpret the division
between work and life under capitalism in terms of coincident divisions between market and
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home, public and private, male and female spheres. Marxist feminists have tried to fit women
into a theory not created for them. Socialist feminists try to correct the gender-blindness of
Marxist theory by using the physical reality of womens lives as the starting point for their
theory. Evans (1995: 108-109) acknowledges that because the relationship between feminism
and Marxism was fraught, marred by the primacy of capitalism and class, the distinctive
socialist feminist project became the analysis of capitalism and patriarchy, and the relationship
between the two. Socialist feminists are not just looking for answers to womens oppression
within the structures of class, but as a complete analysis of social, economic, and political
structures.
The starting point for socialist feminist are the structures of patriarchal capitalism. As
Hartmann (1993: 196) writes, these structures change over time and from culture to culture, but
right now, for Western society, they include: heterosexual marriage (and consequent
homophobia), female childbearing and housework, womens economic dependence on men
(enforced by arrangements in the labor market), the state and numerous institutions based on
social relations among menclubs, sports, unions, professions, universities, churches,
corporations, and armies. These structures give men control over womens productive and
their reproductive labor.
According to Hartmann (1993: 194), by controlling womens access to resources and
their sexuality, men can then control womens labor power for both the purpose of serving men
personally and sexually, and for the purpose of rearing children. For the socialist feminist,
mens control over womens reproduction is not just a control over her children but over her
very sexuality. Reproduction is sexual, MacKinnon (1987: 97) writes, and men control
sexuality, and the state supports the interests of men as a group. Social relations of
reproduction are as important to socialist feminists as social relations of production are to
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Marxist feminists. Womens role as producers as well as reproducers is viewed as a social
construct of patriarchal capitalism.
Simone de Beauvoir. The most famous socialist feminist, indeed one of the most
famous feminist theorists, is Simone de Beauvoir21. In 1972 she joined the Womens liberation
Movement (MLF) and publicly claimed herself a feminist, but she did not renounce socialism.
Moi (1985: 91) writes that Beauvoir was convinced that the advent of socialism alone would put
an end to womens oppression. Socialism, she argues, is the necessary context for womens
emancipation. Despite her arguments against feminism in her introduction, The Second Sex and
its positioning of women as the Other has become a classic in the field of feminist theory. One
of the main reasons for this is that de Beauvoir does not limit herself to one field of enquiry, but
discusses ideas of biology, history, literature, anthropology, psychology, and sociology. She
even discusses social attitudes towards lesbians and the innate hierarchy of the institute of
marriage.
De Beauvoir is unsatisfied with traditional explanations of womens subordination.
Women, de Beauvoir (1989: 37) argues, is more than her body, biology is not enough to answer
the question, why is women the Otherl Freuds theory of womans castration complex as an
explanation for womens inferior and subservient social status is too simplistic for Beauvoir.
Nor was she satisfied with Engels idea that womens subordination is simply a consequence of
private property. Beauvoir (1989: 52) argues that for us woman is defined as a human being in
21 Rosemarie Tong (1989) categorizes Simone de Beauvoir as an existentialist feminist, as
opposed to a socialist feminist, because her work is influenced by Jean-Paul Sartres Being and
Nothingness. Tong (1989: 196) claims that it is a misconception to think that Beauvoir simply
applied his theory to womens specific situation, but that at times she did simply use Sartean
terms without transforming their meanings; at other times, however, she did effect such a
transformation to fit her philosophical and feminist purposes. In truth, Beauvoir is not easily
defined, besides using Sartres existentialist ideas, she also extols liberalist ideas of equality with
men.
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quest of values in a world of values, a world of which it is indispensable to know the economic
and social structure. Why, she asks, do women fail to resist the attitudes and institutions which
subordinate them? Womens existence as Other can only be understood in context to her total
situation.
Simone de Beauvoir (1989: 731) argues that for women to be emancipated women must
be defined as an independent person, not as mans Other. She argued that a socialist
transformation could bring an end to the self/other conflict among people in general and men
and women in particular. By having adequate food, clothing and shelter, men and women can
overcome the psychological constructs of the Other. By having their own identities and
economic independence, women will become self not Other. Tong (1989: 211) points out the
fact that de Beauvoir reminded her readers that even though we can create ourselves, our efforts
to shape ourselves in to what we want to be will always be limited to the kind of existence that
has been given us. Before we can change the relationship between men and women, we must
first change the society which forms us.
There are a number of problems feminist have with The Second Sex. First of all, de
Beauvoir, despite writing a 689-page book, seems limited in her views of oppression. De
Beauvoir argues that class and sexism are deeply intertwined, but, Elizabeth V. Spelman (1991:
206-207) her claim only works when the men and women involved are not subject to class or
racial oppressions. In this way, de Beauvoirs The Second Sex seems to argue that sexism is
only experienced by Western middle-class white women. Nor does this argument explain why
sexism would disappear in a socialist state where class is non-existent.
According to Jean Bethke Elshtain (1981: 306) there are three problems with de
Beauvoirs The Second Sex. First of all it is not accessible to most women because its
philosophical speculations do not arise out of womens lived experience. Secondly, Elshtain
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(1981: 308-309) takes issue with the way de Beauvoir treats the female body. Menstruation is
viewed as disgusting and pregnancy is viewed with apprehension. Beauvoir is uncomfortable
with her body, and it shows in her writing. Thirdly, Elshtain (1981: 308) believes that de
Beauvoir valorizes the male norm. To obtain freedom, women simply need to give up their
female identities and become more like men. Tong (1989: 213) argues that the denigration of
womans body in The Second Sex arises from the elevation of the ideal of mans body: active,
virile, dominant, transcendent. Women are viewed as passive, complacent, and intrinsically tied
to the horror of their bodies.
Simone de Beauvoirs work is an important historical piece of socialist feminist theory,
and it is highly influential, but todays socialist feminist theorists may or may not find its
existentialist ideology useful22. Today there are two fields of socialist feminist thought. The
first, Tong (1989: 175) explains, is the dual-system theory. This theory claims that patriarchy
and capitalism are distinct forms of social relations and distinct sets of interest, which when they
intersect, oppress women in particularly egregious ways. Patriarchy and capitalism must be
analyzed as separate phenomenon, for even under socialism women remain oppressed.
Therefore, there is more to womens oppression that just the capitalist system and patriarchy
must be studied on its own in order learn how to emancipate women.
The second field of socialist feminist thought is unified-system theorists. These
feminists try to analyze capitalism and patriarchy together as one unitary concept. For unified-
system theorists Tong (1989: 175) writes, capitalism is no more separate from patriarchy than
the mind is from the body. This calls not for class as the central category of analysis, but for a
22 Today some feminists are taking a second look at The Second Sex. A number of the problems
English speaking feminist have with the text can be contributed to the fact that it is a rather poor
translation done by a man back in 1989. A better translation, done by someone with a better feel
for the text, may rectify some of the problems.
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division-of-labor analysis. This way the individuals who do certain jobs are analyzed in great
detail.
A later form of socialist feminism is standpoint feminism. This theory emerged from a
feminist concern that theories of human development and behavior ignored womens
experiences. Zalewski (1993: 17) writes that standpoint feminist theory is based on the idea that
traditional theory reinforces womens subordinate position in the world by depicting womens
realities and womens way of knowing as marginal, peripheral and inferior. In particular,
standpoint feminists such as Nancy Harstock proposed the idea that womens culture,
experience, and practice should be the basis for a feminist theory to fight against patriarchy.
Donovan (1996: 89) notes that just as Marxs vision of the liberated community is derived from
the experiences and practices of the alienated laborer, so is feminist standpoint rooted in the
labor experiences and practices of women. In particular, it views female activity as different
than male activity. While women do work for wages, they have been institutionalized to
perform activities such as housework and child rearing. This reality has to be the basis for a
new social consciousness. Standpoint feminism holds that the sexuality of the body does not
have to be denied, that nature can be embraced, and that there does not need to be a struggle
between self and other. Standpoint feminism holds that a community can be developed through
a variety of connections.
Socialist feminism, unlike Marxist feminism, takes into account differences of class,
and to a lesser extent, differences between women due to race. As Hartmann (1993: 195) writes:
Racial hierarchies, like gender hierarchies, are aspects of our social organization, of how
people are produced and reproduced. They are not fundamentally ideological; they constitute
that second aspect of our mode of production, the production and reproduction of people. In a
capitalist society, both gender and race determine where a worker will fit in the hierarchy of the
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workplace. It is not just gender, but differences of class, race, age, nationality, marital status,
and sexual orientation all come into play within the hierarchical relationships inherent in
capitalism. It is important to note that due to these other categories, some women may exercise
some form of patriarchal power over some men.
The problem with Marxist feminist theory is that runs the risk of erasing the differences
that exist among, and within, women. Those women who are most oppressed by class cannot be
chosen to speak for all women, and one womans experience cannot be said to be representative
of all womens experiences. Idealized accounts of patriarchy, where all women everywhere are
oppressed by all men, only leads to culturally and historically skewed views of society and
nihilistic beliefs concerning the project of emancipation. Marxist feminist theorists, and more
so, socialist feminist theorists, adopt the Marxist idea of culture being an unspecified whole
instead of it being historically and socially situated. Elshtain (1981: 284) argues, to assimilate
the public and the private into universal laws and abstracted structures requires Abstract Man,
Abstract Woman, and Abstract Child in turn. The society we live in is not abstract, and neither
are the people who live in it. If a feminist theory is to be useful in destroying the system of
oppression which holds women, and indeed everyone else, in a position of oppression and
exploitation, it must see the people as individuals and work to destroy the very categories of
public/private and masculine/feminine.
Radical feminism
Destroying the category of woman is exactly what radical feminist propose. Radical
feminism is a diverse group of writers, ranging from Mary Daly, to Charlotte Bunch, to
Monique Witting. Radical feminist theorists are interested in social justice, in a complete
overthrow of male supremacy. For many radical feminist theorists men are the root of all evil,
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and only feminism can bring about lasting social change. Witting (1993: 180) asks, what does
feminist mean? Feminist is formed with the word femme, woman, and means someone
who is fighting for women. Historically, radical feminists argue, feminism has not been able
to deal effectively with the contradictions of what it means to be a woman. The problem is that
the definition of woman has always been viewed in conjunction to what it means to be male. To
break free of the constraints of society, women must break free of the patriarchal definition of
what it is to be a woman.
There are several aspects of radical feminist thought. All are dedicated to bringing
down patriarchy and the inequalities it forces on people. Josephine Donovan (1996: 142) writes
that besides working for social justice and peace, radical feminists developed several other ideas:
The idea that the personal is political; that patriarchy, or male-dominationnot
capitalismis at the root of womens oppression; that women should identify
themselves as a subjugated class or caste and put their primary energies in a movement
with other women to combat their oppressorsmen; that men and women are
fundamentally different, have different styles and cultures, and that the womens mode
must be the basis of any future society.
True social revolution can only come from women, the historically oppressed class. It is only
through a celebration of women though art, literature, religion, science, dance, and sexuality
that women can escape from male domination.
A central concern for radical feminist is the idea of male violence against women.
Rape, sexual harassment, and pornography are all seen as forms of violence, as MacKinnon
(1987: 86) asserts, separate from intercourse, normal, ordinary sexual initiation, and eroticism.
The male has always had the privilege of defining rape, sexual harassment, and pornography,
radical feminists believe that only womens experiences can be used as a basis for distinction.
The reality of what women feel as rape, harassment, and exploitation is much more important
than what men construct these acts to be.
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It is important for radical feminists to critique what society has deemed sex and to
explore what has been done to womens bodies and souls in the name of sexuality. According to
MacKinnon (1987: 6-7), male aggression against those with less powerread womenis
experienced as sexual power: Dominance, principally by men, and submission, principally by
women, will be the ruling code through which sexual pleasure is experienced. The sexual
experience is defined by hierarchical relationships of what it means to be male and what it
means to be female. The sexual desires of the female are not considered in this relationship, or
are considered as subordinate to those of the male. In another article, MacKinnon (1993: 182)
writes that women are sexually subjected because the sexes are not equal. If they were equal
sexual force would be exceptional, consent to sex could be commonly real, and sexually
violated women would be believed. The reality is that in the United States, one in four women
will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, that for many radical feminist, sexual consent
between men and women is a chimera, and rape is the most underreported crime in the US.
Male control over the female body permeates all levels of womens existence.
One of the most highly contested areas of radical feminist thought is in the area of
motherhood. Especially in todays society, where test tubes, cloning, and surrogate mothers are
undermining traditional roles of motherhood, it is important for feminists to ask who controls
reproduction and for what purposes? Rosemarie Tong (1989: 94) admits that issues of
reproduction are especially troubling, because refusing to reproduce and to mother may be the
safest course of action for women who wish to escape the snares of patriarchy; but any such
refusal represents, for may women at least, an act of self-denial, there may also be good reason
for women to lay claim to those dimensions of reproduction and mothering that have not been
distorted by patriarchal socialization. The question is how do we know which aspects of
mothering have not been distorted? Do women get pleasure out of mothering because society
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requires them to, or is it the one true aspect of being a woman that society has not been able to
corrupt?
Issues of sexuality are very important to radical feminists. Some argue for androgyny,
while others argue for a complete reversal of sex roles, with women in the position of power.
Other radical feminists claim that only lesbian relationships can bring women true freedom,
while still others contend that it is possible to change the structures of society so that
heterosexual relationships can be non-hierarchical. What they do agree on, Tong (1989:109-
110) asserts, is that to the same degree that socially constructed gender and reproductive roles
restrict a womans identity and behavior, socially constructed sexual roles make it exceedingly
difficult for a woman to identify and develop her own sexual desires and needs. Many believe
that any heterosexual relationship is intrinsically patriarchal, and Charlott Bunch, who during
the 1970s thought it might be possible for feminist women to be heterosexual, now does not
believe that anyone can be a true feminist if she is not a lesbian. Radical feminists forces
women to ask if it is possible to have a relationship with a male in a patriarchal society in which
she is not subjugated?
In her article One is not Born a Woman (1993), Monique Witting discusses one aspect
of radical feminist theory. She argues that women are not a natural group, but one socialized
into heterosexual roles. Witting (1993: 178) argues that women have been compelled in our
bodies and in our minds to correspond, feature by feature, with the idea of nature that has been
established for us. Women do not know what it means to be a person, they only know what
society tells them a woman should be. JeanBethke Elshtain (1981: 211) notes that Witting
adopts the Marxist idea that women are a class; that is that both the category man and the
category woman are political and economic categories, not eternal ones. Women, Witting
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argues, must move beyond the category of sex and become more than women by becoming
lesbians.
For Witting, the first task of radical feminists is to disassociate the myth of
womenthe social constructand the reality of what it means to be a non-constructed woman;
to be a lesbian. Witting (1993: 181) argues that we have to destroy the myth within and outside
ourselves. Woman is not each one of us, but the political and ideological formation which
negates women (the product of a relation of exploitation). The idea, she argues, is to
construct a being not defined by the definitions of male and female, but as a whole and unique
person.
Alison Jaggar both sees promises and problems with radical feminists preoccupation
with the body. While she is glad to see that radical feminists have brought attention to issues of
motherhood, reproduction, and sexuality, Jaggar does not see biology as being static and fixed.
Instead, Tong (1989: 127) writes, Jaggar sees human beings as aproduct of the interplay
between environment and biology, between culture and nature. Radical feminists, in almost
complete contrast to liberal feminists, overlook the fact that while the body is an important part
of a womans identity, it is not the only aspect of it.
Jean Bethke Elshtain (1981: 213) also has problems with radical feminism. Societies,
she argues, vary dramatically, and one cannot start a theory based on the presumption that
patriarchy is a universal constant though out time and space. The singular approach of radical
feminists limits their perceptions of social interactions. Elshtain (1981: 214) argues that to use
a single category to explain the social organization of all societies is to place oneself, in the case
of feminist and anti-feminists alike, on a Procrustean bed and to distort the variability, diversity,
and manifold richness of different ways of life, then and now. It is too simplistic, accepting
without question that anything male is corrupt and anything female is good. The fact that even
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in patriarchy, women have had an influence in society is ignored and the character of
womanhood is idealized. Just as in liberal feminism, women are seen to be intrinsically good.
Womens very natures are assumed to better than that of mens with no question to the cultural
stereotypes upon which this idea is based.
Joan Cocks argues that radical feminists emphasis on womens otherness and their
glorification of rebellion only help to define the male as the norm. Tong (1989: 131) explains
Cocks position by stating that when a radical feminist places women exactly where men
havein the same space as passion, fertility, irrationality, sexuality, disease, and
reproductionshe maybe dooming women to a perpetual rebellion and separation that
ultimately serves not women but men. Radical feminists are only asking for a separation from
the patriarchal norm, they are not trying to undermine it. By rebelling openly against it they
only strengthen it, witness the rise of such groups as the Promise Keepers. Until the roots of
patriarchy are addressed and openly exposed as oppressive for everyone, patriarchy will continue
to be the dominant power structure.
Feminism and Identity. What liberal feminism, Marxist/socialists feminism, and
radical feminism all have in common is that they are all versions of identity feminism. Identity
feminism is based on the idea of categorizing large groups of people based on a singular
characteristic. Rosalind Delmar (1994: 7) notes that the concept of identity rested on the idea
that women share the same experiences; an external situation in which they find
themselveseconomic oppression, commercial exploitation, legal discrimination are examples;
and an internal responsethe feeling of inadequacy, a sense of narrow horizons. The problem
is that one cannot base ideas about a very large and diverse group on the experiences one or even
several members of the group. It is disturbing at best and often leads to preconceived, ahistrical
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notions which are limiting. The individual is lost and is forced to conform with an image that
may be far from reality. Delmar (1994: 7) continues that unity based on identity has tamed out
to be a very fragile thing. What has been most difficult for the womens movement to cope with
has been the plethora of differences between women which have emerged in the context of
feminism. As long as women have only fragmented identities it will be impossible to construct
a theory of emancipation which speaks for all women. Finding a solution to the problem of
identity is not easy, but there is hope.
For this thesis I incorporate Iris Marion Youngs (1995: 199) idea of gender as seriality
as she discusses in her article Gender as Seriality: Thinking of Women as a Social
Collective23. Unlike a group, which forms around actively shared objectives, a series is a
social collective whose members are unified passively by the objects around which their actions
are oriented or by the objectified results of the material effects of the actions of others. A series
is fluid, with no sense of a collective identity. There only has to be one commonality which
binds the members of a seriality, and this may or may not lead to a conscious acknowledgment
of their connectedness. A seriality may seem like a harmonious group from without, but the
members may not even be aware of any similarities. According to Young (1995: 203), to be
said to be part of the same series it is not necessary to identify a set of common attributes that
every member has, because their membership is defined not by something they are but rather by
the fact that in their diverse existences and actions they are oriented around the same objects or
practico-inert structures. Membership in the series does not define ones identify. However,
23 Young bases her idea of seriality on Jean-Paul Sartes work Critique of Dialectal Reason
(trans. Alan Sheridan Smith, ed. Jonathan Ree. 1976. London: New Left Books). Sartes work
is sexist and he takes for granted the idea that all human relations are intrinsically tied to the
male experience, but Youngs goal, with which she is mostly successful, is to simply take the
concept of seriality, form it to her own needs, and leave all the androcentric biases behind.
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one is a member of a serialily because it is a part of ones identity24. Groups form through a
conscious acknowledgment of membership to a seriality and a common goal.
Third World Feminism
Third World feminism is as diverse and complex as any found in the First World. The
ideologies and goals of Third World feminists vary depending on historical context and the
needs currently facing each woman. Despite what many in the First World and the Third World
believe, feminism, or at least womens movements, are no more new to the Third World then
they are the First World. The idea that feminism is nothing more that an imperialist export
from Europe and North America ignores the fact that women have been resisting violence and
oppression in Third World states decades before they were known as Third World states. This
history has until recently been hidden, but as Morgan (1996: 5) notes, the accomplishments of
such heroines as Maria Jesus Alvarada Rivera, who forged a militant Peruvian feminist
movement in 1900, and Me Katilili, the seventy-year-old woman who organized the Giriama
uprising against the British in Kenya in 1911, and the accomplishments of the Thai warrior
Thao Thepsatri are being uncovered by contemporary feminist scholars. Womens movements
are not new, Morgan (1996: 10) continues, as illustrated by the Anti-Marriage Sisterhood in
nineteenth-century China. The members of this group pledged to commit suicide before they
would marry.
24 The idea of seriality will be useful in the following chapters concerning Third World
development theory. In the following chapters, the idea of seriality will be applied not simply to
the category of women, but to the category of the Third World. Members of the Third World
have been grouped together into a homogenous lump and theories concerning the development
of the Third World do not take into account the fact that many nations were created without any
thought to the different cultural identities within each. Citizens of the Third World have
numerous identities, some of which take precedence over nationality.
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What is new in the Third World is the conflict created between First World and Third
World women due to Western ideologies of what it means to be a feminist. As Aihwa Ong
(1994: 374) writes, through the eyes of Western feminism the status of non-Westem women is
analyzed and gauged according to a set of legal, political and social benchmarks that western
feminists consider critical in achieving a power balance between men and women. By taking
Third World women as an unproblematized and universal category, First World feminists ignore
the fact that power relations in the Third World are just as fluid and multiple as they are
anywhere else, and that issues of identity are of vital import to many Third World women.
Until very recently in the Third World, the need for First World feminist movements
were overshadowed by the ideology that class was the most important tool of analysis for those
marginalized and oppressed. The UNs Decade for Women (1976-1985) did open up a space
where new ideas about gender were voiced by First World and Third World women. Previously,
Ong (1994: 372) notes, when First World feminists looked toward the Third World, they
frequently tried to establish their authority on the backs of non-Westem women, determining for
them the meanings and goals of their lives. The UNs Decade for Women gave Third World
women an opportunity to voice their own meanings and goals. Miller (1991: 187) argues that
with the international attention to womens issues during this decade, a potentially
transformational gendered critique of social, political, and economic programs that spans the
political spectrum emerged. This feminism was not based in European or North American
ideologies, but emerged from the local needs of Third World women within the specific
historical contexts of each group.
In the Third World, Heng (1997: 34) argues, feminist often seek legitimization and
ideological support from their governments and fellow citizens by creating movements steeped
in local cultural history. They accomplish this by finding either feminist or pro-feminist myths,
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laws, customs characters, narratives, and origins in the national or communal past or in
historically specific interpretations of religious history or law. Unlike First World feminists,
these Third World feminists often do not try to rewrite these myths or laws, but seek to work
within culturally and socially accepted gender roles. This often puts Third World feminist
movements in direct conflict with First World feminists. As Heng (1997: 34) writes, through
the glass of First-World feminisms, Third-World feminists may appear to he willfully naive,
nativist, or essentialist in their ideological stakes. For many Third World feminists, day to day
needs are addressed through local and historically situated movements not with radical change
in mind, but with the needs of wives and mothers foremost in mind.
The modernist framework of most First World feminists simply does not recognize the
reality of many Third World women. Ong (1994: 375) notes that feminists using a
traditional/modernity framework view the destruction of traditional customs as either a decline
of womens status in a romanticized natural economy, or as a source of women liberation
through Western economic rationality. Feminists relying on First World ideology therefore
place Third World women in a dualistic category of being either modern or traditional, with all
the hierarchical assumptions associated with these categories. Along with the hierarchical
relationship then placed on Third World women, this idea of being either a traditional or a
modem woman lacks an understanding of the social meaning of change created by those most
affected by it.
Perhaps one of the most telling events illustrating the difference between First World
feminism and Third World feminism occurred at the Tribune of Non-governmental
Organizations in Mexico City in 1975. At this conference a debate concerning the goals of
feminism was widely publicized. In this debate, Betty Friedan was viewed as the voice of First
World feminism, and Domitila Barrios de Chungara, a representative of the Housewives
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Committee of Soglo XX, an organization of Bolivian tin miners wives, was the vocal
representative for many Third World women. The agenda of the Tribune expressed First World
feminist concerns, Miller (1991: 200) writes, taking on issues such as the problem of prostitutes,
the lesbian experience, the need for equal rights and equal economic opportunities. The Tribune
was organized to address issues of reproductive rights, and its agenda argued that men were
responsible for war, and that men abused women. These issues were foreign, or at least of
peripheral concern, for most Third World women; their concerns were more basic. For many
Third World women, de Chungara argued, the first and main task isnt to fight against our
compaheros, but with them to change the system we live in for another, in which men and
women will have the right to live, work, to organize (qtd in Miller 1991: 200). The division
between Friedans view and de Chungaras is characteristic of the division between First World
and Third World feminists. Much of this division comes not simply from contemporary
differences in goals and viewpoints, but in the historical context of the movements.
In many Third World states, feminist movements have historically developed in tandem
with nationalist movements. This is not to say that nationalist movements have always
embraced feminist movements, in fact Heng (1997: 31) argues, in most cases, feminist
movements become subordinate to nationalist movements. Nationalism is a powerful force in
the Third World, and feminist movements run the risk of being labeled anti-nationalist by
governments or powerful nationalist groups due to the fact that they are viewed as being
influenced and supported by foreign organizations. In order to counteract this charge, many
feminist groups assume the mantel of nationalism themselves, and often find themselves
working not so much for the betterment of women, but as secondary members of nationalist
movements. While early Third-World feminism negotiated relations of mutual use and mutual
contestation with early nationalism, Heng (1997: 32) points out, contemporary Third-World
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feminism is forced to enter into and negotiate more troubled, complex, and sometimes
dangerous oppositional relationships to the contemporary Third-World state. Today,
nationalism is only one ideology Third World women have to decide how to deal with.
Nationalism, while it is a powerful influence on Third-World feminism, it is not the
only influence. In the Third World, Lourdes Arizpe (1990: xvii) argues, the idea that the
personal is political is not an empty phrase, it is a concept grounded in a repressive state
apparatus and a capitalist market that is increasingly encroaching on private life. For example,
Arizpe (1990: xvii) continues:
If governments kidnap and kill their sons and daughters, women demand a public
forum to denounce the situation and cry our for an end to such abuse. If the market
causes the level of their husbands income to plummet, obliging women to seek
employment and to carry out additional work in the home to stave off hardship, while
still being expected to fulfill their valued role as mothers, then women will demand
better social services, better urban infrastructure, better wages and more child-care
facilities. If their husbandspeasants or minersfind themselves imprisoned both
literally and metaphorically by repressive structures, then women will demand the right
to speak out on their behalf.
These womens movements, such as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, are often in
direct conflict with state governments, calling for reforms and even for the downfall of
repressive regimes. In many areas in the Third World, feminist movements which work within
the context of womens roles as wives and mothers have been essential contributors to
redemocratization efforts.
These womens movements incorporated women of all different kinds of backgrounds
and by the 1990s, Francesca Miller (1991: 244) notes, the transnational arena was no longer
exclusively the domain of upper- and middle-class women, but became a forum for women of all
classes and even the indigenous. Violence against women has become one of the central
concerns of women from all over the world. Issues concerning domestic violence, female
infanticide, and female genital mutilation are being addressed by women from all over the
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world. Third World feminists are arguing that oppressions are intertwined, and that simply
addressing one issue, such as class, cannot solve the problems facing women today. The slogan
for the Chilean womans movement, Miller (1991: 241) writes, adequately sums up the feelings
of many Third World women: We want democracy in the nation and in the home. Since the
1980s, issues of sexual orientation, sexual exploitation, reproductive rights, abortion, and
divorce have been emerging concerns in the Third World, and women of diverse backgrounds
are lending their voices to the discussion.
There are numerous variations to Third World feminism, and there are numerous
problems facing women in the Third World as they organize and work toward change. Cultural
and historical views of proper roles for women do not change over-night, and many times, Third
World women do not attempt to change these ideas in their effort to work against violence and
oppression. Chapter Four discusses the limitations of Third World feminism and argues that
many times these feminists also fall into the trap of modernity. Like Ong (1994: 379), I argue
that feminists need to deconstruct colonial categories and problematize modernization. By
giving up our accustomed way of looking at non-Westem women, we may begin to understand
better. Postmodernist theory can help create spaces for even greater and long lasting change;
change that not simply addresses the basic needs of Third World women, but change which
challenges the social, political, and economic structures which originally created the
inequalities.
Postmodern Feminism
Postmodernism and feminism has an uneasy alliance, but postmodernism can help
relieve some of the problems facing First World and Third World feminist. Postmodern theory
was not created out of local grass-root communities, but by elite scholars. It is complex and its
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theory difficult to understand, however, it is useful for feminists in that it can be used to create
areas of contention where previously marginalized voices can be heard. As Fraser and
Nicholson (1990: 5) note, postmodernism can be a feminists ally because it can avoid the
tendency to construct theory that generalizes from the experiences of Western, white, middle-
class women.
As discussed earlier, the idea of seriality helps to alleviate some of the problems of
essentialism. Women can be viewed as individuals, belonging simultaneously to a number of
different series. Identity, Sawicki (1996: 166) asserts, is seen as a self-representation, fluid and
unstable. These identities are still social constructs; and feminists must continually question
them. It is here that postmodern feminism comes into play. Gavey (1989: 472) observes that
postmodern feminist initiatives are committed to the analysis of the socially constructed nature
of human behavior, [the] deconstruction of the assumptions within language and the process of
producing subjectivities, and [with] discourse analysis of existing discursive fields and related
subject positions. Postmodern feminists question all aspects of identity and they play with the
relationship between essentialism and anarchy. Identity is a very important concept for feminist
to deconstruct, but Judith Butler (1991:160) argues, it cannot be the unifying position of
feminism, for it is always exclusionary and limiting. Agency only becomes possible when
women do not have a fixed identity but are given the freedom to create ever new and creative
identities.
Today feminist postmodern theorists maybe followers of Derrida, Foucault, or Lacan,
but Elizabeth Grosz (1994: 1) declares, they do not simply repeat the work of their intellectual
predecessors: in each case their projects entail a particular rewriting and rereading of masculine
positions and a thoroughgoing displacement and reorientation of their theoretical categories,
presumptions, and methods. There are many things the postmodernist project can do for
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feminism. Because of its deconstructive method and its hostility toward phallocentric ideology
and logocentric language, Rosemarie Tong (1989: 217) asserts that postmodern texts can offer
to each woman who reads them...an opportunity to become herself. Postmodernists refuse to
construct one explanatory theory, indeed the point is that there can never be one explanatory
theory.
Postmodernism is built upon the work of a diverse group: beginning with Jacques
Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, it broadens to include the writings of Michel Foucault, Jane Flax,
Judith Butler and French feminists Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Xaviere
Gauthirer.25 The French feminist movement was bom out of the revolutionary Paris of the
1970s. In the decade following the student revolt of 1968, political activism in France took on a
new intellectual aspect. According to Fraser (1992: 2) the womans movement was new and the
belief was that existing social relations and institutions were wholly repressive and that no
mere reforms could put things right. After fighting side by side with the men in the student
movements, French women began to form a consciousness concerning their unequal and sexist
positions within the movement and society in general.
However, Toril Moi (1985: 96) points out that unlike the feminist movement in the US,
French feminists took it for granted that psychoanalysis could provide an emancipatory theory
of the personal and a path to the exploration of the unconscious, both of vital importance to the
25 Again it is important to note that the category of postmodern theorists is highly contended.
This section discusses the French feminists, whom some say are one of the basis for feminist
postmodern thought in the US, but Butler (1991: 151) asserts that almost all of French
Feminism adheres to a notion of high modernism and the avant-garde, which throws some
question on whether these theories or writing can be grouped imply under the category of
postmodernism. I discuss the French feminists precisely because they are not easily categorized
as a homogenous group. They are a very diverse group who continuously question the world
around them in numerous ways, and while not all French feminists can be categorized as
postmodern, many touch on the same issues and propose unique critiques on modernity and
influential theories concerning womens emancipation. The point I want to make about
postmodern thought is that it makes the patriarchal tool of categorization nearly impossible,
making people think in ways that create areas of slippage within the existing symbolic order.
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analysis of the oppression of women in patriarchal society. The idea that Freudian theory could
be useful for feminists has been highly contested in the US, and many claim that there is nothing
to be learned from this sexist and ethnocentric texts. The French do not simply build upon
existing texts, they take the theories apart, using what they want and need in order to build new
theory. Gross (1987: 127) explains that the French feminists use psychoanalytic and
deconstructive theory in an openly political context, using these otherwise therapeutic or critical
techniques to explain, and change, oppressive social relations and systems of representation.
French feminist theory is steeped in the intellectual tradition and saturated with European
philosophy, both of which are problematic for US feminists. Many feminists theorists in the US
feel as if they are reading a truly foreign text when they read French feminists, and they argue
that it is too obscure to possibly affect anyone but the most intellectually elite.
Feminist theorists in the United States have only been recently exposed to
postmodernist thought and they find it difficult. The readings have been few and far between
due to problems translating the texts, and therefore, the ideologies and goals of postmodernist
theory are much broader than most US feminists realize26. Tong (1989: 218) notes that some
postmodern feminists write simply to spin theory as an art form; others write primarily to
motivate women to change their ways of being and doing in the real world. US feminists tend
to focus on active problem solving, they find the French feminists difficult to accept with their
emphasis on theory and language. The idea that reading and writing texts is political and
26 This thesis is not going to focus on expanding US understanding of French feminism. As
Nancy Fraser (1992: 1) notes the reception of French feminism here has been partial and
selective. It has focused almost exclusively on one or two strandsthe deconstructive and
psychoanalyticof a much larger, variegated field. It is important to note that I will be
discussing only those few aspects of French feminist theory that have found its way to the US,
and even my overview of that will be select and brief.
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subversive is a foreign concept for most US feminists, which accounts for much of the hostility
US feminists have for postmodernist theory27.
French feminists argue that as girls grow up, they are faced with two choices, both of
which are problematic. They can become members of the Symbolic Order, embracing its
language, ideals, and linear construct. By doing so, women are not granted a voice which is of
their own choosing, which can elucidate their experiences. Donovan (1996: 114-115) argues
that their other choice is to remain silent; to remain outside of the historical process.
Throughout history womens voices have been silenced either by being constrained by the
language of the Symbolic Order or by not being allowed to speak at all.
The French feminists problematize Freud, making the pre-oedipal relationship between
mother and daughter a site of resistance. Josephine Donovan (1996: 115) explains that the
female body and female sexuality become the source of an authentic, disruptive, feminine
Imaginary. The pre-oedipal mother becomes erotic and womans sexual difference is seen not
as being valued as less than mens sexuality, but a source of female nourishment, a vehicle for
transformation. Donovan (1996: 115) continues her explanation of French feminists
deconstruction of Freud by saying that French feminists urge that women affirm their
otherness, their differentness as a means of destroying, subverting, or deconstructing the
27US feminists recognize that early twentieth century feminist theory tends to reflect the
experiences of white, middle-class women of North America and Europe, however they see the
solution to be the adding of more diverse voices, not deconstructing the barriers which lie
between different women. The tendency to write without critical analysis of ones own historical
and cultural biases still persist, for it is easy to acknowledge that one is historically and
culturally grounded, but it is difficult to try to transcend ones experiences (Nicholson 1990: 1).
For many, postmodernist deconstruction is a waste of time, for it is seen as accomplishing
nothing substantial. Judith Evans (1995: 126) argues that if any comment is as good as
another, and all are equally near to the real, then those who seek to better their condition are
lost. This shows only a limited understanding of postmodernist theory. There are some
postmodernists who argue that no true change can ever be made, but there are those who claim
that by digging deep, by exposing the roots of oppression, we can destroy the arbitrary categories
of difference which divide us.
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patriarchal order. By doing so they may be marginalized by the dominant Symbolic Order, but
they also subvert it. Womens voices have been silenced because they are a threat to the
dominant system, a phallocentric system.
Language and the meaning people create is one of the greatest concerns of
postmodernists. Hare-Mustin and Marecek (1988: 460) contend that just as the meaning of a
word partly depends on what the word is not, the meaning of a text partly depends on what the
text does not say. Postmodern feminists seek to deconstruct the phallocentric assumptions of
language as well as create a space for a womans voice independent of logocentric assumptions.
Kathleen E Nuccio and Roberta G. Sands (1992: 29) write that postmodern feminists
destabilize the patriarchal social order by uncovering the marginalized voices of women and
other oppressed groups. Patriarchal discourse is based on silences, postmodern feminists refuse
to be silent. They take a critical look at such theorists as Freud, Lacan, Lyotard, Derrida, and
Foucault and problematize them, opening up a space for new discourses to take place.
Phallogocentric thought is seen to revolve around the idea of an absolute word (logos)
and to be inherently patriarchal, and therefore it must be avoided. Postmodernists, Nicholson
(1990: 4) maintains, argue that the highest ideals of modernity in the West as immanent to a
specific historical time and geographical region and also associated with certain political
baggage. One can never know what true reality is, but we must find a way to move beyond
the modernist ideas of truth and reality.
Postmodern feminism sees difference as existing not only between women, but within
woman. Tong (1989: 219) notes that the notion of a unified, or integrated, self is challenged by
reference to the idea that the self is fundamentally split between its conscious and unconscious
dimension. By problematizing the grand narrative of gender, postmodernism both aids and
hinders traditional feminist theory. For some, Muriel Dimen (1995: 314) points out,
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postmodernism is very disturbing because it brings into question what most people take for
granted, their gender identity. Postmodernism brings with it great possibilities for
reconceptualizing the world, but it also bring with it great anxiety, for no one knows what
changes it will bring.
Judith Evans (1995 : 125) acknowledges that postmodernism is not perfect. It has
aided feminism by renouncing such [patriarchal] narratives...For it admits of no narrative that
automatically subsumes women, relegates them to second place. The problem with this
argument is its corollary: it admits of no narrative that puts women first. The world becomes a
text, circumscribed by language and never fully understood. Postmodernism, Linda J. Nicholson
(1990: 16) argues, would have women question their personal and social identity in that they
have been defined in a world whose very notions of gender identity are not the point of our
liberation but rather the grounding of our continuing oppression. The question then facing
postmodern feminists becomes, what is our goal and how do we achieve it?
There are numerous ideological differences between postmodern feminists, but all are
calling for a deconstruction of the dominant system. None however, can agree on how, and if,
this can be accomplished. Evans (1995: 140) notes that many critiques of postmodernism claim
that its language intimidates all but some of the most dedicated scholars; it is a method only for
the elite. As such, and because it claims we can never reach the truth, it is also said to uphold
the status quo. On the other end of the critique, some claim that its philosophy will lead to
social, moral, and political chaos. However, Tong (1989: 233) asserts, the problems of
difference will exist with or without postmodernist theorists problematizing it. It is not an easy
theory, it does not promote easy answers, but easy answers have not gotten feminists very far. In
her conclusion to her section on postmodernism feminism, Rosemarie Tong (1989: 233) admits
that there is no easy solution:
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Whether women can, by breaking silence, by speaking and writing, help
overcome binary opposition, phallocentrism, and logocentrism, I do not know.
All that I do know is that we humans could do with a new conceptual start. In
our desire to achieve unity, we have excluded, ostracized, and alienated so-called
abnormal, deviant, and marginal people...For even if we cannot all be One, we
can all be Many. There may yet be a way to achieve unity in diversity.
Differences do not have to divide women, they have done so up until this point because
women have been forced to choose between identities. The rhetoric of differences must be
deconstructed in such a way as not to ignore difference, but to allow women to embrace
differences in themselves and others.
What we know is that we cannot continue as we are. If feminist theorists continue to
use traditional methods of research we are, as Nicholson (1990: 15) points out, in danger of
shutting out the experiences of non-white, non-Westem, non-heterosexual, working-class
members of the late twentieth century. We must not only recognize difference in
women/woman, we must learn to hear her story and to deconstruct the meanings made from her
experiences. As many critiques of postmodernism have argued, postmodernism is also elitist,
white, and Western, but it has the capability to open spaces for alternative voices. Feminist
theory, if it is to be pragmatically useful, must be localized, grounded in the daily experiences of
women. Traditional research has silenced those experiences that do not easily fit into
modernitys preconstructed reality, postmodern feminists now must uncover the gaps in the text.
Acknowledgment is the first step toward change, and it is the first step postmodern feminists
need to take when critiquing the ideology of development theory.
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CHAPTER 4
THE DISCOURSE OF DEVELOPMENT
International Relations
International relations (IR) is a relatively new and diversified field of study. Its main
purpose is to try to understand and predict the very complex interactions between global actors.
After World War I social scientists began to study the dynamics of war and peace in greater
depth than ever before. No longer was war confined to regional conflicts; the dynamics of war
and peace affected and were affected by the larger international community. The world was
becoming more interdependent, and it became vitally important for governments, businesses,
and individuals to understand how the international community works. Professors Peter A.
Toma and Robert F Gorman (1991: 12) write that international relations flow from contacts
and interactions among countries, such as political interactions among governments, such as
wars, alliances, diplomatic relations, negotiations, and threats of military force. While IR is
usually classified under the realm of political science, it is multidisciplinary, concerned not only
with diplomatic relations between states, but with history, economics, law, sociology,
anthropology, and other aspects of social and cultural interactions. Because of its diversity,
students of IR typically choose one level of analysis to concentrate on: the individual, the
subnational group, the national, the regional, or the international (or systemic) level. These
levels are all interactive and have no clear boundaries, they do little but help limit the scope of
ones research. This thesis will be mostly concerned with IR in the form of development theory
on both the regional level and the subnational level.
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This chapter will first discuss the main tenets of international relations theory and its
ties to modernist ideology. The main part of this chapter is concerned with the field of
international relations known as development theory. This Western ideology was constructed in
order to explain why some states are industrialized and others are not, and to theorize how the
lesser developed states might be guided toward a Western model of development. The final
section is a critique of development theory, arguing that its Western biases have created a theory
dedicated to ignoring cultural, political, and historical differences in the name of progress.
Like every discipline, international relations has its own language. This language was
born out of Enlightenment thought and formed in order to show hierarchical relationships, to
force dualisms, and to exasperate differences. It is a discipline formed out of Western
positivism, forcing issues of culture, identity, and spatiality into a dialogue about
industrialization, civilization, and temporality (development). International relations relies on
the modernist notions of linear progression. Through time and effort states are considered to
develop from simplistic social, political, and economic structures into industrialized capitalist
societies.
For clarity it will be necessary to define some of the terms that will be used in this
thesis. A simplistic definition of a nation is a group of people who share a common past,
heritage, customs, and history. Toma and Gorman (1991: 27) explain that the individuals of a
nation often have a common religion, language, and ethnic background which helps to form a
sense of unity. Nationalism is the shared belief that an individual nation is separate from all
other nations. Nationalism can be both an internal unifying force, and a source for strained
external relations. Not all states have a strong sense of nationalism due to the fact that not all
states consist of individuals sharing the same history, language, and ideology; and conversely,
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not all people who have a shared identity have their own state. Today, ethnic conflicts between
people with different national identities who share the same state are common.
A state is a physical territory that does not rely on a shared sense of identity. Charles
W. Kegley Jr. and Engene R. Wittkopf (1989: 9) note that a state is a legal identity represented
by some form of government that is empowered to make decisions and enforce rules for its
population. The government of the sate is responsible for the territory and the population which
dwells within its borders. In order to be considered a state, the government must be recognized
by the international community. Many states, especially those arbitrarily created through
colonialism, consist of populations which do not share a common history, language, ethnicity, or
sense of nationality. In short, a nation is not necessarily a state (the Kurds), and a state may not
be a nation (the former Yoguslavia).
Those entities which have the characteristics of both a nation and a state are referred to
as nation-states. While often the terms state, nation and nation-state are used interchangeable
they are in fact separate phenomenon. A nation-state has a population with a sense of
nationalism and is internationally recognized as a state. There may be some internal conflicts
within a nation-state, but the sense of nationality unites the population against outside
influences. In the post-colonial era, Toma and Gorman (199: 28) assert, much of the conflict
in the international system can be attributed to the lack of congruence between nationhood and
statehood in the vast areas of the globe that have only recently been admitted into the
Westphalian28 society of states. With the end of colonialism and the collapse of the Soviet
28 The Westphalian system is considered to be the modern state system as opposed to the
Feudal system of the Middle Ages created by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The Peace of
Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War and brought about the downfall of the churchs political
dominance. While the idea of state-hood was not new (the Greeks has a well defined city-state
system) the Peace of Westphalia did bring about the concepts of sovereignty, international law,
international recognition of statehood, and the open acknowledgment of the need for mutual
respect of individual governmental authority.
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Union, the external structures which had created numerous states without regard to national, or
tribal, identity have disappeared, resulting in the proliferation of conflicts based on nationalistic
desires for statehood.
Within the state system there are numerous power relationships with each state trying
to protect its national interests while preventing other states from gaining hegemony. Toma and
Gorman (1991: 28) continue their analysis of international relations by stating that with power,
sovereigns could influence the course of international events, carve out colonial empires, and
secure wealth, prosperity, and prestige for themselves and their people. The play of events
which is created out of all these variables, and many others, affects the lives of everyone in overt
and covert ways. International relations is interested in the studying and understanding of how
all of these variables work together within the interdependent global community. Since the
Peace of Westphalia, the modem state system has been evolving: power relationships keep
changing, states form and are destroyed, and new economic and political system are tried,
adapted, and discarded. The international community is not static and it is very complex, and
therefore, the discipline which is dedicated to its study must be willing to look at all the different
aspects of the international community. The problem is that the discipline of IR has
traditionally tried to simplify a complex system in order to create theories that are useful for
governments. Because of this simplifying, none of the different paradigms of IR gives a
completely accurate account of international events.
In order to be accepted as a rational and logical discipline, international relations has
adapted a scientific method of inquiry. It is said to be objective and gender blind, impartially
observing the way the international community works. In order to achieve this well constructed,
objective world, the complexity of the international community is often sacrificed. For example,
the term community is loaded with logocentric undertones. It is a label which denotes difference
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located within a hierarchical context, often initiating feelings of opposition, controversy, and
competition. In effect, Chris Brown (1995: 90) writes, the uniformly positive connotations of
the term community in ordinary political discourse are achieved at the expense of content. It is
a label systematically applied to any group sharing even the most superficial similarities, often
by a group/individual who knows very little about the complexity of relationships between those
who are said to constitute the community. By looking at the world through Western lenses, IR
tries to homogenize the international community. Chris Brown (1995: 105) finds the intent of
traditional IR to be dubious at best, for there is no sufficient reason to believe that a world of
communities will be, or even could be, transcended by a world community. When complexity
and individuality are ignored, any theory concerning international relations will reflect only the
culture and history of the theorist.
Traditional IR paradigms try to force a very complex world into easily defined
categories. In her article International Politics and Political Theory, Jean Bethke Elshtain
(1995: 273) argues that the international community is too diverse, composed of wondrously
various communities, and the reality generated by those multiple communities in their dealing
with one another too dense, for any sustainable and compelling theoretical overcoming. By
creating identities that are limited in scope, IR is capable of restricting the discourse to issues of
importance to those in power. Steve Smith (1995: 20) argues that the defining feature of
international theory is very limited and conservative. In effect each paradigm deals with its
own research agenda and leaves the others alone. This is an effective way of marginalizing
dissident voices. Those who do not fit into the agenda are ignored and silenced by the power
structures of the discourse. International relations theory is not formed by studying reality so
much as IR is formed to explain Western views of what the international community should look
like. John A. Vasquez (1995: 223) writes that whoever controls identity obviously has
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profound influence over the destiny and life of an individual, group or society. Any identity
seen as being outside of this constructed norm is marginalized and silenced; forever placed
outside of the discourse.
Controlling identity is an important step in asserting economic and political control.
Halliday (1995: 56) notes that today US hegemony is inextricably linked with forms of culture
and information hegemony. In todays high tech world, information, more than ever, is power.
The power/knowledge relationship is very overt, and by giving precedence to Western
knowledge, IR gives precedence to Western political regimes. Traditional IR tries to
homogenize society under Western notions of what constitutes a good and productive society.
In order to accomplish this goal a new discourse was created. The discourse of development
theory has become the official discourse of Western authority.
International Development
The term development means different things to different people. With development
theory perspective is everything. Naila Kabeer (1994: x) notes that some see development as a
planned project, others see it as a process of social and/or economic transformation. Some use
the concept of justice, other equality, and still others talk about development in terms of
increased opportunities. Some see development as both an ongoing process and an end unto
itself, while others claim that it is the relationship between the means and the end that is
important. Part of the problem, Crush (1995: 7) explains, is that despite the continuity of
development discourse, over time it changed its language, strategies, and practices as
international power relations have changed. In 1875 Auguste Comte asserted that humanity was
subject to the laws of development, where development was synonymous with order. Cowen and
Shenton (1995: 34) note that this order embodied the laws of social evolution where
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development brings improvement. Today, development is usually associated with ideas of
technology, democracy, and capitalism.
Fred R. Von der Mehden (1964: 3)29 writes that for Americans, the term
underdeveloped is associated with states that cannot be related to a model based upon a Western
European or North American democratic polity with several political parties, with widespread
literacy, a high living standard, wide circulation of newspapers and books, consensus on the
structure of the government, a long history of (internal) peace, and for some, a white population.
From the viewpoint of the West, development is seen as the savior of the poor and backward
nations that constitute the Third World. For many who inhabit the Third World, development is
viewed as being no better than colonialism, bringing with it unwanted, and even destructive,
change.
Development theoryJonathan Crush (1995: 3) calls it a self-designed academic field
which attempts to verbally model real world processes of developmentis concerned with the
political, cultural, and economic imbalances that exist, or are perceived to exist, between
nations. Its purpose is to legitimize and reproduce Western ideology in all its forms, i.e.
economic, political, and cultural. The roots of development theory are varied, and for the US go
as far back as the Monroe Doctrine (1823). As a field of study, modem development theory can
be seen as beginning with Trumans espousal of the fair deal30. In 1949 Harry Truman made
his inaugural address, claiming that:
29 Much of von der Mehdens work Politics of the Developing Nations (1964) is outdated, but
his analysis on the legacy of colonialism is still very useful. Even in 1964 von der Mehden was
very critical of positivistic notions of modernity and was interested in deconstructing the
Western biases of development.
30 The concept of development has actually been around long before 1949. As far back as 1844
people were writing about the concept of development. Michael Cowen and Robert Shenton
(1995: 29) note that Robert Chambers wrote The Natural History of the Vestiges of Creation in
which he wrote that the inorganic has one final comprehensive law, GRAVITATION. The
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More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery.
Their food is inadequate, they are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive
and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more
prosperous areas. For the first time in history humanity possesses the knowledge and
the skill to relieve the suffering of these peoples...I believe that we should make
available to peace-loving peoples the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in
order to help them realize their aspirations for a better life...What we envision is a
program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing, (qtd in
Escobar 1995a: 3)
Trumans vision of a fair deal was rooted in ethnocentric assumptions that everyone wanted to
be like America and its European relatives. Truman decided that it was the Wests burden to
make sure that those with primitive and stagnant economies were modernized in such a way
that capitalism would flourish. Profit was the motive, but it was couched in the language of
humanitarian generosity.
The Third World
Development theory is based on Western capitalist notions of modernization and
industrialization. The First World consists of economically and politically strong countries such
as the US, Japan, Germany, Australia, and the UK. The term Third World was originally
coined in 1955, at the Bandung (Indonesia) conference, where states choosing nonaligned
foreign policies used the term to describe themselves. Bernard Nietschmann (1987: 2) argues
that when the term Third World was first coined it was not a derogatory label, but instead
indicated states that were neutral during the Cold War years directly following World War II.
As more and more colonized states fought for their independence in the 1950s and 1960s, the
connotations of the term changed. Kegley Jr. and Wittkopf (1989: 91) note that today, the term
Third World is used to describe the poorer, less industrialized countries of Latin America,
organic, the other great department of mundane things, rests in like manner on one law and that
is, DEVELOPMENT.
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Africa (excluding South Africa), and most of Asia and Oceana31. All told, the Third World
contains over 3/4 of the worlds population, but produces less than l/5th of the worlds goods (as
measured by GNP).
This economic disparity did not happen by accident; it is a legacy of colonialism. In
Politics of the Developing Nations (1964), Fred R. von der Mehden gives several reasons why
former colonies have had a difficult time obtaining political stability and economic growth.
First of all, von der Mehden (1964: 22) argues, colonial governments did little to prepare their
colonies for independence. Ethnocentric and racist ideologies held that the natives were not
capable of self rule. With very few exceptions, natives were not given positions of authority
within the colonial governments. When the colonizers left, natives were left with a bureaucratic
infrastructure that no one knew how to run. To exacerbate this problem, because many states
were formed with no regard to tribal territories, internal conflicts arose in a number of former
colonies. Those who had held positions within the colonial government were viewed as traitors
and imperialists and were regarded with suspicion.
The second problem, von der Mehden (1964: 25) writes about was the paternalistic
attitude of the colonial powers. Native populations were not taught self-reliance, and in most
places traditional local rulers were replaced by those natives deemed most complaisant. The
post-independence native government, von der Mehden (1964: 25) notes often retained an
aloofness and an air of noblesse oblige which was characteristic of the colonial period. These
31 The terms First World and Third World are becoming increasingly antiquated. Besides the
arguments concerning a forced hierarchical and dualistic world that will be argued in this thesis,
the terms are based on a system where there is also a Second World. The First World connotes a
capitalist path toward development, the Second a socialist path. The Second World is becoming
increasingly small and obsolete, but the terms First World and Third World, with all their
connotations, are still used and will be the concepts (along with developed, underdeveloped, and
undeveloped) employed in this thesis.
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native bureaucrats could not command the honor and respect of the population that was needed
to establish stable governments.
The third problem, von der Mehden (1964: 26) discusses has to do with the economic
instability facing Third World nations. In their effort to derive economic benefits from their
colonies while raising the standard of living in these areas, the colonial powers encouraged the
development of economies based upon the export of such products as rubber, tin cocoa, peanuts,
coffee, sugar, rice, and spices. These exports are luxury goods, fluctuating widely on the world
markets. In addition, in many of the former colonies the means of production are owned by
foreign investorsUnited Fruit in Guatemala, CONOCO in Peru. Natives received little
economic benefit from the exportation of their scarce resources.
The First World relies on consumerism, a free market economy, and democratic
institutions. Its developed market economies rely on trade and profit, desiring ever larger
markets to exchange goods. The Third World is composed of diverse countries with different
ideologies and various economic and political histories and strengths. Kegley Jr. and Wittkopf
(1989: 93) explain that not all Third World Nations are impoverished (such as the oil rich
nations of OPEC) and not all are ruled by military dictators, but all identify themselves as such
and behave self-consciously as members of a collective movement in their search for freedom
from their economic and political dependence on others. For the many citizens of the Third
World life is a daily struggle, where their countries face such problems as overpopulation, high
debt, and political instability. Development theory is interested in the historical, cultural and
economic roots of the First World/Third World gap. The development of the Third World along
capitalist lines is seen as a necessary step in the broadening of international markets.
It is also important to note that development theory is a tool of the Cold War. Latin
America had gained its formal independence from its colonizers at the beginning of the 19th
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centuiy, but Asia and Africa were struggling for autonomy in the era directly following World
War II. In these years, issues of national security dominated development discourse. For the
US, the social and economic stability of its European allies took precedence over issues of
democracy and freedom. Europe needed to be rebuilt, and the cost was going to be high.
Colonialism continued to be supported because it allowed for the exploitation of countries and
easy access to labor and raw materials. As more and more countries broke out of the colonial
system, the US saw new opportunities for the expansion of the capitalist market. The World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were created to foster the growth of capitalist
economies in these new nations. By fostering the growth of capitalist economies in these former
colonies, the West was able to not only have easy access to raw material, but guard against the
growth of communism.
It is vitally important to the West that the Third World develops into capitalist
economies and not Second World socialist ones. Escobar (1995a: 34) argues that in the early
1950s it was accepted that if underdeveloped states were not rescued from their poverty they
would succumb to communism. Modernization and development were seen as tools to expand
the United States sphere of political and cultural influence. Third World nations were not
permitted neutrality, they were forced to align with either the East (socialism) or the West
(capitalism). Development theory was created with a strong anti-communist purpose, and states
not following the Western model of development were harshly brought back into line, i.e.
Guatemala in 1954 and Nicaragua in the late 1980s. By forcing economic, social and political
dependence, the US strengthened its hegemonic hold over developing nations.
Development is almost entirely a post-World War II concept. The colonial discourse of
pre-World War II did not allow for such global concerns as poverty, famine and
industrialization. In Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third
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World, Arturo Escobar is very critical of the legacy of colonialism. The problems of the Third
World, he believes, are problems created through the modernist discourses of the First World.
Escobar (1995a: 22) notes that in colonial times the concern with poverty was conditioned by
the belief that even if the natives could be somewhat enlightened by the presence of the
colonizer, not much could be done about their poverty because their economic development was
pointless. The natives capacity for science and technology, the basis for economic progress,
was seen as nil. Mass poverty however, is mostly a construct of colonization and capitalism.
Traditional agrarian societies are communal, sharing in good times and poorfarmers are not
mass consumers. With capitalism came the concepts of land ownership, profit, class division
and monetary currency. Crush (1995: 10) argues that the language of development is a
language of crises, creating a logical need for external intervention and management. The
concept of poverty is just as much a construct of ethnocentric assumptions as is the concept of
the Third World. Through the discourse of poverty grew a new reality of poverty. People were
taught the meaning of poverty.
Escobar (1995a:24) continues his critique by stating that the post-colonial discourse
almost arbitrarily decided that the essential trait of the Third World was its poverty and that the
solution was economic growth and development became self-evident, necessary, and universal
truths. Developing the Third World in the image of the First World, became the only way to
alleviate the poor conditions of the Third World. Development programs called for an end of
traditional societies based on community and archaic methods of farming, communication, and
transportation. According to this view, Escobar (1995a: 26) asserts, the strength of the First
World derives from its use of the neutral, desirable, and universally applicable tools of science,
technology, planning, and international organization. Development theory argues that by
adapting these methods, the Third World can alleviate its social and economic problems.
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Critiques of Development
The problem with development lies in the fact that it is seen as being an imperialist tool
of the First World, and with reason. No matter what the rhetoric, development has not been
done with the needs of the Third World citizens in mind, but with the idea of expanding and
strengthening Western political and economic interests. Development is seen as active
intervention; the First World simply cannot allow for the Third World to naturally progress
along its own path toward modernization. The Third World must be scientifically managed so
that it follows the path designed for it by the First World. Crush (1995: 16) argues that
development is never viewed by the First World as the disease, only the cure: Development
discourse has a remarkable capacity for forgiving its own mistakes and reinventing itself as the
remedy for the ills its causes. The discourse of First World development theory is given
priority over real Third World needs.
The very idea of a need for development theory is highly problematic. Its central tenet
rests on the idea of the dualistic nature of the modern world. States are formed through power
structures based on the ideas of inclusion and exclusion. In fact, Andrew Linklater (1992: 78)
states, questions of inclusion and exclusion are central to international relations, since states
and the state system are, in themselves, systems of inclusion and exclusion. As previously
discussed, the world of international relations is further split by the idea of First World and
Third World. The Europeans discovered new lands and made it their divine right to conquer
these lands, to Christianize the savages, and to destroy that which they did not like. These
backward nations became the property of Western civilization and it became white mans
burden to civilize these lands and their people. A dualistic relationship was set up from the
very beginning. Linklater (1992: 81) writes that the Europeans invented ways to exclude those
who were seen as being morally and intellectually deficient:
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Europeans had to find means of reconciling the lower status of the non-European
peoples with the principles of human equality and universality intrinsic to the
Christian world-view. Their efforts to overcome this tension resulted in various
doctrines such as the Great Chain of Being in the eighteenth century and the
speculative philosophies of history and evolutionary framework of the last two
hundred years.
The natives were seen as being morally, intellectually, and socially inferior to the people of the
West, and Europeans were doing them a favor by taking care of them, for obviously if they were
capable of caring for themselves they would have looked and acted just like Europeans.
For the First World the purpose of development is to mold the world in its own image.
Science and technology, Pennycook (1990: 66) writes, are seen as the secular justification of
Western dominance, and therefore all other forms of Western thought are also considered
superior. The modernist project Pennycook (1990: 67) explains is based on three assumptions:
that unity is achieved through rationalization; progress is a universal project, and an assumption
of the objective consciousness of an absolute meta-subject. Science and rationality are used to
support modernitys self legitimization as the discerner of universal truths.
Little thought is given to the long term problems being created in the Third World.
Development discourse, Crush (1995: 6) argues, promotes and justifies very real interventions
and practices with very real (though invariably unintended) consequences. Through the
dialogue of development, life is reduced to a language which often ignores issues of power,
identity and representation. The Third World has been homogenized through development
theory, in effect, Kabeer (1994: xi) notes, that abstract and highly formal modes of theorizing,
which rule our specific viewpoints of the different unofficial actors in development, have helped
to generate the universalistic and top-down approaches which have been the hallmark of much
of mainstream development theory so far. It is based on half truths, false assumptions, and
negative stereotypes of the Other.
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