Saturday, October 2, 2010

generations of material feminisms

Tuesday, 5 October – the new and the on-going in critique
Hekman, Material: Chaps 4, 5 (“the fourth settlement”)
• (xerox) & Ahmed & Davis
• explore online the reviews of Hekman’s book and of the earlier edited collection Material Feminisms.

What is at stake in the varying chronologies of innovation, disciplinary travel, constructions of multiple materialities, bodies, and the new circulating around the so-called "new materialist theorists"? Investigate the debate opened up by Sara Ahmed 2008 in the European Journal of Women’s Studies and a reply by Davis the following year 2009. What transnational issues are indirectly involved? How are feminist concerns put into conflict with each other? Why are these feminist politics “the fourth settlement”?

How does one enter a set of concerns (debates?) for the first time? It's already going on, where do YOU come in? One way is with a guide, but notice how "interested" your guide is likely to be: their version of the principle players, what is at stake, how many discourses are being collapsed together, and the histories, timelines and genealogies will be shaped by their own memberships in various communities of practice. To some extent I am your guide here, notice how interested I am! In another sense, I too am entering these concerns as a peripheral participant: much of this material is new to me, or at least new in this debating relationship. In that sense, I can model some of my own ways of approaching this set of materials as a newbie. But notice that my forms of "learning to learn" are already structured as well! 

I offer you some "meta" analysis: ways to think about the knowledge worlds involved, how to frame the timelines taken for granted, how to make visible some generational and disciplinary agencies involved, and how to trace some of the literatures -- which are held in common across the debating partners, and which are not. My own first book sets out these intentions, although many tools I share come from work I have done since then. (King, 1994, Theory in Its Feminist Travels.)

So, some ways of thinking about such thinking: I have especially found helpful the work of Susan Leigh Star and Geoff Bowker (esp. Sorting Things Out), and in turn, the methods of science studies, particularly feminist technoscience studies, for mapping who is who, where is where, what is what, and why. (See also Clarke's Situational Analysis.) Notice the irony here: the very methods I find useful for considering these concerns are some of the objects in dispute, some of the agencies shaping and being shaped here, and some of the players in the action! (For me one genealogy includes: Haraway's Primate Visions, "Situated Knowledges," Modest Witness, How Like a Leaf (with Goodeve), and When Species Meet; as well as Latour's Laboratory Life (with Woolgar), We have Never Been Modern, and "How to talk about the body.")

So, what counts as the material anyway? Wikipedia: materialism ; Dictionary Philosophy of Mind ; Feminist Theory website: Materialist Feminism .

Personally I think of materiality in terms of extent, range, connectivity and infrastructures; necessarily economic and otherwise caught up in worldly processes of many sorts. So the work of folks like Keeling, Tsing and Hayward are examples of what I personally take as also "at stake" in material feminisms and their practice. Focus doesn't come at the expense of connection. It is not narrower but actually broader. One needs a sense of range in order to bring things into focus.

the feminist settlement? (K:969) "the feminist settlement is the most comprehensive. It addresses epistemological, ontological, political, scientific, and technical issues simultaneously. It is concerned, not just with science, knowledge, or power, but with all these at once, and most importantly, with the interaction among them. More clearly than any of the other settlements it indicates the direction that further critique will take."

some terms for this? Hekman names (K:973) "the new materialism," Tuana's "interactionism" or "viscous porosity," Barad's "intra-action" and "agential realism."
what does lack of common label indicate? newness? building consensus? (K:975)

social constructionism ; realism  
movement from? epistemology to ontology ? emergenceembodiment 
representation vs. performativity vs. assemblage
onto-epistem-ology ; postepistemological ; ontological politics 

Hekman (K:1242): "some aspects of the settlement, most notably the analysis of science, are more developed than others.... glaring omission...few theorists discuss the implications of this approach for the social world."

Some players here: look up: Hekman, Alaimo, Ahmed, Davis 
Everyone claims Haraway. Why? Bridge from old to new? (K:975)
Harding, Longino, Code, Keller, Fausto-Sterling, Wylie, Hankinson-Nelson, Butler      
Searle, Latour, Rouse, Davidson, Pickering, Derrida, Bohr          
Braidotti, Grosz, Gatens, Mol, Wilson       
two Cloughs: Sharyn (cited by Hekman) and Patricia (cited by Ahmed)   

(K:1010) "it is precisely in the application of this new approach that its strength lies."
We have already seen some possible "applications" (are they part of all this?) from our readings of Haraway, Tsing, and Hayward. What connections do they make and on what terms in practice? 

=Hekman describes Tuana's "array of forces" in her analysis of Hurricane Katrina as including "the economic, the political, the ecological, the biological, the historical, and the racial." (K:1027)
=Hekman notes that Barad's analysis of the sonogram "not only reveals the multiple elements of this practice but examines their intra-action in a practice that matters on multiple levels." technological, apparatus, perception, scientific/medical, discursive, political. (K: 1113) 

• Hekman quotes Barad's "entanglements": "to lack an independent, self-contained existence... individuals emerge through and as a part of their entangled intra-relating." (K:1043)
• Hekman declares Barad's goal is "giving an account of materiality as an active and productive factor in its own right" which "is essential to the future of feminism." (K:1051)
• Hekman sees "For Barad, Bohr's agential realism has the advantage of bringing matter back in, and specifically matter as agential, without denying the role of theory in the constitution of what will become 'reality.'" (K:1055)
• Hekman positions Barad critiquing Butler's "how discourse comes to matter" to Barad's own "how matter comes to matter." (K:1095)

(K: 1124): "the 'fetus' that the scientist sees through the sonogram, the objective object of the scientific gaze, is the 'fetus' that the law has defined as a free-floating subject.... We cannot 'see' the fetus in the sonogram without 'seeing' it as an autonomous subject under the law." The fetus is a "phenomenon constituted and reconstituted out of historically and culturally situated intra-actions of material-discursive apparatus of bodily production." Hekman quotes Rouse saying that Barad does all this "without reducing or subordinating scientific knowledge to predetermined structures of power." (K:1131)

Barad 2007: 361: "scientific practices do not reveal what is already there; rather, what is 'disclosed' is the effect of the intra-active engagements of our participation within and as a part of the world's differential becoming." (K:1138)
Barad 2007: 390: "We are responsible for the world of which we are a part, not because it is an arbitrary construction of our choosing but because reality is sedimented out of particular practices that we have a rold in shaping and through which we are shaped." (K:1141)

Compare Hekman's understanding of the work of Elizabeth Grosz to Ahmed's understanding of it, with attention to what is at stake for each of them in invoking or critiquing it.

Ahmed 2008: 26: "One must wonder who is being evoked by this ‘we’, and to what extent this ‘we’ functions to interpellate the reader into a community that shares a common horizon (Have you forgotten where we have come from? Have I?). If you inhabit the ‘we’ of feminism, then you become implicated in this ‘we’ by virtue of your inhabitance. After all, this text is very much addressed to feminists and others who share feminist interests, suggesting that feminists, and ‘all theorists interested in the relations between subjectivity, politics, and culture, need to have a more nuanced, intricate account of the body’s immersion and participation in the world, if they are to develop political strategies to transform the existing social regulation of bodies’ (Grosz, 2004a: 2)."

Hekman 2010: K: 1212: Grosz understands Darwin to mean that "'culture produces the nature it needs to justify itself, but nature is also that which resists by opening according to its own logic and procedures' (2004:72)." (K: 1213): "She wants feminism to embrace what she calls 'a politics of affirmation of difference' (2004:72). Central to that goal is a reconfiguration of nature as dynamic, of matter as culturally productive.... (K: 1220): "She asserts that it is the resistance of the world to human wishes, its capacity to make us want, that makes us produce and invent (2005:128)."

Hird on "new materialism" as in 2004 Feminist Theory and/of Science,
special issue journal Feminist Theory: 2: "a momentous shift in the natural sciences in the past few decades to suggest an openness and play within the living and non-living world, contesting previous paradigms which posited a changeable culture against a stable and inert nature."

Do feminist approaches to animal studies fit in here too? Consider this upcoming conference at Wesleyan: sex/gender/species: "The growing field of animal studies has turned critical attention to the real conditions and stakes of human-animal relations. It has also become a new and important focus for debates over identity and difference that have embroiled academic theory over the past quarter century. Recent scholarship on animal otherness as well as discussions of how to traverse boundaries of difference often draws upon a history of feminist theory and practice even as this borrowing remains unacknowledged. The purpose of this conference is to foreground the relations between feminist and animal studies and to examine the real and theoretical problems that are central to both fields of inquiry."

Conferences, special issues of journals and collections of scholarly articles such as Material Feminisms can be thought of as intellectual/political projects that involve relative ranges of collaboration and the instantiation or creation of communities of practice.

some considerations for discussion of conversations as units of political agency in action in theoretical discourse (the contention in my first book): 

• how to work with differences between complex intentions and analysis in works and authors understood at a fine grain of analysis and the ways these become mobilized in shorthand bits traveling, used in translations across knowledge worlds, appropriated for (overly?) clear pedagogical purposes and so on in more general terms without the same investments in precision and technical specificity?

• how to think about differences between what a text/author says complexly and how the text/author is used as an object in political debate and in the production of generational and other interests over time, in the construction of time frames, histories, genealogies?

• how to account for disciplinary and other differences in what counts as an argument, what counts as evidence, and what counts as good intellectual/political/technical practice?

• how to take into account the affects that manage knowledge worlds, their boundaries, memberships, trajectories of naturalization, peripheral participation, and urgencies of action?

• how to consider generously that naming a problematic clearly and courageously at one moment in time may later on appear inadequate to address that problematic, later on when the messy, difficult work of even perceiving these problematics has become taken for granted, and the urgencies of action are felt with renewed frustration and concern.

• how to describe the absorption into infrastructures of thinking and institutionalization that belie textual and authorial intentions, with effects that are distinct from texts and authors?

• how to account for divergent experiences of communities of practice with materials, discourses, objects and institutionalizations such that they generalize very differently as their horizon of experience is materially distinct?

All these make it only too easy for those "in debate" to talk right past each other, to actually have experienced their work and others in ways that are directly counter to those of the folks they debate with, to set up the terms of their concerns in ways that are hidden to themselves as deeply held and unquestioned assumptions that also anchor their reputation and expertise. Are these so divergent that real engagements are impossible? Far from it. Some of these divergences are actually in themselves productive: they may be misunderstandings but they may also create and build new ways of thinking and interaction anyway. Or they may result in effects that reinforce boundaries between communities of practice. Or they may create affects that enable or disable difficult negotiations with and among identity groups, institutional agents, intellectual generations, or disciplinary and transdisciplinary meanings.


No comments: