These comments were originally presented at the Eastern American Philosophical Association in Philadelphia on January 9, 2020 at the satellite meeting of the Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World.
I appreciate this book and am glad to have it in the world. Serene Khader canvasses a breadth of debates of multicultural and transnational feminism within the field. She frames possible objections and offers responses in many cases just as the reader begins to consider that objection and in other places where the raising of the objection clarifies Khader’s position. The book is highly readable both for non-academics and technically sophisticated for scholars. I taught the book in my feminist philosophy course that focused on transnational feminism this past semester and it became a touchstone for debates throughout the course. Khader offers nuanced frameworks that aim to be effective in on the ground transnational feminist activism. I have now read and reread this book three or four times and I can say that the initial objections have melted away as I have continued to sit with it, but I think there is still something in my initial concerns that I now think are about whether universalism can be decolonized within a liberal framework. Khader herself points to these questions. In conclusion, I’ll ask whether an alternative notion of universalism in a Marxist or post-Marxist vein is what Khader’s project invites.
I would sum up my remarks with four questions:
- Who is the book for?
- What work does the sense of universalism that Khader aims to recover do?
- What is the status of this account as non-ideal theory?
- Can universalism be decolonized within a liberal framework?
As John Locke tells the story in his Second Treatise on Government, land that is common becomes private property by the work that a person puts into it. Because work is an extension of oneself, working on land makes the land an extension of oneself and hence gives one the right to that which she has extended herself to (the gender of who works to own and whose work is owned by another is the subject of Carole Pateman’s The Sexual Contract, where she argues that under patriarchy women are the natural commons that men appropriate by working on).
Critical race theorists have long noted that Locke is largely responsible for the view that treating land as property is a sign of progress. Those who do not treat their land as private property are deemed backwards and uncivilized. Julie Ward notes how European officials thinking about Africa retain this notion that “entering into history” is a matter of entering into a certain notion of progress based on developing value out of land when she quotes then French President Sarkozy’s address in Senegal on the French-African relationship. Sarkozy remarked that, “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history … They have never really launched themselves into the future…The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words…”
Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow returns to this question of how work produces property, and specifically what relations of production are required for work to produce property. Property is not only what a person can claim a right to access, as the commons can be, but also what one can freely alienate and exchange for value. Stoll’s account raises the question of which work gives one a right to land and which work does not. It puts the lie to the notion that property is acquired by work rather than by the willingness of government to recognize and enforce a right. Read more