I came across mention of Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch in Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of this World, and was taken with the notion that the character of the devil and the character of the witch can be understood through a genealogical method that shows how these characters were invoked, who was empowered by them, who invoked them and who was accused of these things. The question for Federici (as for Kotsko) is not was this person really a witch or a devil, but how did accusing someone of being a witch achieve certain ends in certain contexts? Federici argues that the accusation of being a witch was used to strip women of power during the transition to capitalism from feudalism, a process which was necessary for the success of capitalism.
Against the view that the persecution of witches was the last gasp of the superstition that accompanied feudalism, Federici argues that the charge of witchcraft was used to limit women’s power and to control the reproduction of labor so necessary for the success of capitalism. This persecution involved a steady indoctrination of the threat of witches and the characteristics of witches, a process which produced the notion of the strong independent woman as a supernatural threatening force antagonistic to the interests of even working class men. Federici argues that the targets of witchcraft were not crimes but previously accepted practices and individuals that needed to be eliminated for capitalism to become possible and to thrive. Evidence of this is that those who were accused were poor peasant women and those who accused them were wealthy members of the community, often their employers or their landlords.
In an odd sort of inversion where those who wish to maintain the status quo use the arguments and language of the opposition to shut down their activism, Meghan Daum argues in the LA Times that the Women’s Strike is only for privileged women. Maureen Shaw makes a similar argument in Quartz. In a classic critique of acts of systematic and collective resistance, Shaw went on to argue that strikes that have particular aims are more successful. Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza struck back at this line, calling this line of critique ‘concern trolling’ in The Nation. They point to the responses to this line of concern that organizers like Magally A. Miranda Alcazar and Kate D. Griffiths discuss at length, also in The Nation. Read more
“The crowd is not a community. It doesn’t rely on traditions. It doesn’t have a history. The crowd is not held together by unstated norms or an obscene supplement that extends beyond its own immediacy (although crowd images and symbols clearly shape the reception and circulation of crowd events). Rather, the crowd is a temporary collective being. It holds itself together affectively via imitation, contagion, suggestion, and sense of its own invincibility. Because the crowd is a collective being, it cannot be reduced to singularities. On the contrary, the primary characteristic of a crowd is its operation as a force of its own, like an organism. The crowd is more than an aggregate of individuals. It is individuals changed through the torsion of their aggregation, the force aggregation exerts back on them to do together what is impossible alone.” Jodi Dean, Crowds and Party Read more
I learned about the Feminist Epistemologies, Metaphysics, Methodologies and Science Studies (FEMMSS) 6th conference at the GLCA Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies workshop in Ann Arbor last May from someone who works in science studies. FEMMSS is the feminist epistemologists and metaphysicians equivalent to the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) conference. Since FEAST meets every other year, FEMMSS meets on the off year. What’s great about this conference is how interdisciplinary it is — people from physics, neuroscience, philosophy, anthropology, history and sociology are here. I have enjoyed the interdisciplinary conferences I’ve attended in the last several years, from HASTAC to PODNetwork to Wonder and the Natural World at IU this last June. The conversations are lively and cross-pollinating, and the intradisciplinary anxiety and intensity seem softened by the interdisciplinary engagements. Read more
We’ve been asking ourselves for years why certain voting blocs vote for the Republican Party apparently against their interest. The economic platform of the GOP does not seem to serve working class white men, but the racist dog whistles and socially conservative “family-values” appeals draw these voters in election after election. The neoliberalism of Hillary Clinton suggests that this same question should be asked of traditional Democratic voters who feel compelled to vote for the Democratic nominee to protect specific rights associated with identity politics. 7 intraparty caucuses are listed by the DNC in 1982, Donna Murch notes in this volume: “women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, liberals and business/professionals” (92).
One contributor asks whether, if Roe were settled, many feminists would feel any compulsion at all to support the Democratic candidate cycle after cycle. Maureen Tkacik (“Abortion: The Politics of Failure”), founder of Jezebel, argues that this is the one issue that seems to unite women to the Democratic Party, despite the fact that Democrats haven’t been very good at making abortion safe and accessible to women. Tkacik maintains that the right to abortion is easier to exercise in Mexico, a country where that right does not exist. “This is telling because Hillary Clinton owes her chances at the presidency to abortion: and she’s not alone–it’s often Democrats’ unique selling proposition to women” (113).
But abortion cannot be the sum of feminist politics. Far more significant and far more central in making women’s lives, workers’ lives, people of color’s lives precarious are the neoliberal policies long supported by Hillary Clinton. Neoliberalism is the political and economic view that uses government to support and protect corporate interests, devolving risk to individual workers, who can be deemed too expensive to support. Tkacik concludes that it is telling that abortion has become the rallying cry of Clinton’s feminism:
Yet it makes sense from an insular Beltway fundraising perspective to focus on an issue that makes no demands–the opposite, really–of the oligarch class; this is probably a big reason why EMILY’s List has never dabbled in backing universal pre-K or paid maternity leave; a major reason “reproductive choice” has such a narrow and negative definition in the American political discourse. (123)
This collection of essays edited by Liza Featherstone reminded me of how central was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in bringing the neoliberal state of affairs to American politics and making it commonplace. In three specific areas-education, welfare, and crime policy- Hillary and Bill Clinton were catalysts of change in American thinking such that these issues appear incontestable yet are severely damaging. Read more
Starting on May 5, I embarked on a week-long social media experiment where I only engaged with women online. I did this project in conjunction with blogger and philosopher Leigh Johnson. Here’s what I posted and she posted on Facebook to announce the project.
I have long felt like social media is a man’s world. Men get all the privileges they get as men, but it feels amplified on social media. My experience of social media in general is that men can say things that get taken as definitive, while women are asked to explain and justify. Men say things about their difficulties in any particular area of their life and it is taken as an expression of their reflective capacities, but when women express such difficulties, it is taken as a moment to offer advice. I don’t have the data (a. I would love to see such work being done and b. I think the call for data in response to this expression of my experience is in a sense part of what happens to women on the internet–we call it gaslighting when experience is not to be trusted), but my experience on the interwebz is that it’s a hard place to be a woman, especially a woman in philosophy. Read more
Today was the first day of the Ancient Philosophy Society in Portland, Maine, hosted by Jill Gordon at Colby College. A new day has dawned for the APS when so much discussion of gender in ancient philosophy and explicitly of feminist approaches to ancient philosophy is given center stage. I was planning on posting a blog on the conference as a whole, but today’s program was so rich, and so focused on gender, that it deserves a post of its own. Read more
On March 12, 2016 at the University of Colorado, Denver, at the meeting of PhiloSophia: Society for Continental Feminism, I will be speaking on an Author Meets Critics panel discussing Robin James’ recent book. Below are my comments.
I like this book. I like how Robin James says important things to a popular audience from a background in academic philosophy that remains unbeholden to that world. I like her independent voice. I like how, in Resilience & Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism, James exemplifies what philosophizing out of a singular moment and specific site looks like. Her moment is neoliberalism and her site is pop music. James uses music as more than an example; in her hands, music is a place for developing a conceptual apparatus for neoliberalism. In music, we hear how the demand to turn damage into something productive works to make oppressed persons assimilate into the neoliberal apparatus.
James references a whole slew of sources that signal the breadth of her influences in this project–from Adorno and Marcuse to Deleuze and Guattari, queer theorists Jack Halberstam and José Estabon Muñoz, New Media Studies theorist Steven Shaviro, political theorists like Jodi Dean, Lester Spence and Mark Neocleous, as well as cultural studies scholars like Zandria Robinson. Beyond those we recognize as theorists, James draws insight out of the work of pop musicians Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, Atari Teenage Riot and Rihanna. With this book, James expands the sphere of those figures worth putting to work in philosophy, just as her working out of music multiplies the sites in which thinking occurs outside of the center of well-respected philosophical discourse.
In this comment I move back to those well-respected in philosophical discourse, somewhat abashedly and certainly not because I think James’ argument needs to be put in conversation with those folks in order to gain legitimacy. By no means. James’ work addresses a strain in political philosophy that shows her to be calling into question, even turning on its head, the structural framework within which we have thought about how to expand the sphere of the political to include those at the margins. It’s fitting that this structure is turned on its head through voices unheard in philosophy. Read more
I was just listening to the latest edition of Slate’s DoubleX podcast, which I’ve decided to start blogging about more because at least once in every episode, I’m listening as I run, and I start actually talking out loud about why whatever they are saying is just so wrong-headed. I’m the chair of the Gender Studies Minor at Wabash, and so I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how to encourage students to take more courses in gender studies and to minor. Listening to three women whose jobs are to think and write about gender but who often have underdeveloped or undertheorized accounts of the roots of gender inequality or the assumptions that support their analysis of gender inequality and possible recourses convinces me that students who have just some gender studies under their belt are both needed and highly marketable. I hate to sell things in terms of marketability, but sometimes I do. Read more
I’m coming to the end of my 31 days of blogging and I’ve been thinking about how this practice has changed my habits. Like blogging when I travel, I think blogging every day for a month has made me pay more attention to the thoughts that flit in and out of my head. They’ve also made me think about whether I want to develop something I’ve already written about a bit or if it matters enough to me. At the end of last year, I was recognizing a reticence in myself to write whatever insight or thought I had in a way that it looked to me that many people–mostly men–on social media did not have. I felt like I would circle around the idea four or five times and wonder whether it was worth putting in the world, which I talked about in my mid-month reflection on blogging.
Naming that problem has not necessarily changed it. Right now, I’m having one of those moments. I don’t know if my thought is worth sharing — I felt a little like this about yesterday’s post too — or if everyone already knows this except me. But I decided in these moments that the blog was just as much for me as for the world, and if it was important to me, it was worth sharing. Blogging about it gave me the opportunity to work through and clarify an idea that was percolating. I also tried to get out of my head the idea that my audience was other philosophers. In fact, I think this might be one thing that keeps philosophers from effectively engaging in public philosophy: we’re so tough on each other, we end up being more concerned with crafting the argument to be unassailable and original that either we just don’t write or we write to an audience that already is our audience!
The thought I had this morning was about the notion that women are more associated with their bodies than men that I discussed yesterday. I had always thought that the reason for this is that women bear children and so their work is literally in their body. But this morning I was thinking that is not sufficient. After a week of discussing Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work, it occurs to me that we think of men as less involved in reproduction because of our views of women as more their bodies and men less so, not the other way around. Read more