Adams, Carol. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory
Back Matter: The Sexual Politics of Meat argues that what, or more precisely who, we eat is determined by the patriarchal politics of our culture, and that the meanings attached to meat eating are often clustered around virility. We live in a world in which men still have considerable power over women, both in public and in private. Carol Adams argues that gender politics is inextricably related to how we view animals, especially animals who are consumed. Further, she argues that vegetarianism and fighting for animal rights fit perfectly alongside working to improve the lives of disenfranchised and suffering people, under the wide umbrella of compassionate activism.
Comment: This is a clear and easily accessible introductory text on the relationship of feminism to vegetarianism. The text is compelling and interesting, making a chapter or two excellent for an introductory course that concerns feminism, gender politics, other animals, or vegetarianism. The text in its entirety would be excellent in an upper division course concerning ecofeminism.
Guenther, Lisa. Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives
Abstract: Prolonged solitary confinement has become a widespread and standard practice in U.S. prisons – even though it consistently drives healthy prisoners insane, makes the mentally ill sicker, and, according to the testimony of prisoners, threatens to reduce life to a living death. In this profoundly important and original book, Lisa Guenther examines the death-in-life experience of solitary confinement in America from the early nineteenth century to today’s supermax prisons. Documenting how solitary confinement undermines prisoners’ sense of identity and their ability to understand the world, Guenther demonstrates the real effects of forcibly isolating a person for weeks, months, or years. -/- Drawing on the testimony of prisoners and the work of philosophers and social activists from Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to Frantz Fanon and Angela Davis, the author defines solitary confinement as a kind of social death. It argues that isolation exposes the relational structure of being by showing what happens when that structure is abused – when prisoners are deprived of the concrete relations with others on which our existence as sense-making creatures depends. Solitary confinement is beyond a form of racial or political violence; it is an assault on being.
Comment: This text serves as both a clear introduction to the history of punishment and imprisonment in the United States, as well as a clear introduction to phenomenological method. Portions of the text on the experience of social death in solitary confinement would make excellent additions to introductory courses on prisons and punishment. Some chapters would also be fitting on classes concerning race and mass incarceration.
Haslanberg, Sally. Resisting reality: Social Construction and Social Critique
Publisher’s Note: Contemporary theorists use the term “social construction” with the aim of exposing how what’s purportedly “natural” is often at least partly social and, more specifically, how this masking of the social is politically significant. In these previously published essays, Sally Haslanger draws on insights from feminist and critical race theory to explore and develop the idea that gender and race are positions within a structure of social relations. On this interpretation, the point of saying that gender and race are socially constructed is not to make a causal claim about the origins of our concepts of gender and race, or to take a stand in the nature/nurture debate, but to locate these categories within a realist social ontology. This is politically important, for by theorizing how gender and race fit within different structures of social relations we are better able to identify and combat forms of systematic injustice.
Although the central essays of the book focus on a critical social realism about gender and race, these accounts function as case studies for a broader critical social realism.
Comment: The book as a whole explores the interface between analytic philosophy and critical theory. As it is a collection of essays, particular chapters can easily be used separately, some serving as introductory, others as more advanced readings. It could be of interest for undergraduate or postgraduate courses in political philosophy, philosophy of language and philosophical methodology.
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Gender and Aesthetics: An Introduction
Publisher’s note: Feminist approaches to art are extremely influential and widely studied across a variety of disciplines, including art theory, cultural and visual studies, and philosophy. Gender and Aesthetics is an introduction to the major theories and thinkers within art and aesthetics from a philosophical perspective, carefully introducing and examining the role that gender plays in forming ideas about art. It is ideal for anyone coming to the topic for the first time.
Organized thematically, the book introduces in clear language the most important topics within feminist aesthetics:
- Why were there so few women painters?
- Art, pleasure and beauty
- Music, literature and painting
- The role of gender in taste and food
- What is art and who is an artist?
- Disgust and the sublime.
Each chapter discusses important topics and thinkers within art and examines the role gender plays in our understanding of them. These topics include creativity, genius and the appreciation of art, and thinkers from Plato, Kant, and Hume to Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Also included in the book are illustrations from Gaugin and Hogarth to Cindy Sherman and Nancy Spero to clarify and help introduce often difficult concepts. Each chapter concludes with a summary and further reading and there is an extensive annotated bibliography.
Carolyn Korsmeyer’s style is refreshing and accessible, making the book suitable for students of philosophy, gender studies, visual studies and art theory, as well as anyone interested in the impact of gender on theories of art.
Comment: Chapter 5 is particularly useful in teaching on art theories. It offers an interesting review of art theories from a feminist perspective, noting the gendered character of existing definitions. It may be good to teach it alongside Brand's ‘Glaring Omissions in Traditional Theories of Art’ to best bring out these issues. Secondly, it inspires the question: given the problematic exclusionary character of art history and theory, would it not be better if we did not have a definition of art which we can use to exclude? The value of the feminist art discussed in the chapter lies largely in its ability to expose the biases present in the artworld and expressed in theories of art. Thus the fact that artists tend to create works which challenge existing theories might be in fact desirable.
Kristeva, Julia. Approaching Abjection
Summary: The abject – expressed through the grotesque, the gross and the physically challenging – has long been a source of innovation and scandal in the art world. For Kristeva abjection accounts for much of the complexity of the human condition. She understands abjection to encompass various aspects of our humanity that are often seen as conceptually and/or experientially disparate – emotion, embodiment, affect, repression, criminality, hygiene etc. Kristeva’s guiding intuition is that the abject helps arbitrate between our perception of ourselves as subject and object. In the liminal space between the two, the “I” is experienced in its full heterogeneity to the frequent detriment of traditional ethical, aesthetic, and scientific considerations. This has direct bearing on performance art, whose history is marked by the deliberate departure from beauty and, concurrently, the constant renegotiation of identity between the extremes of subject and object.
Comment: Best if read together with Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny"
Tremain, Shelley. Reproductive freedom, self-regulation, and the government of impairment in utero
Abstract: This article critically examines the constitution of impairment in prenatal testing and screening practices and various discourses that surround these technologies. While technologies to test and screen (for impairment) prenatally are claimed to enhance women’s capacity to be self-determining, make informed reproductive choices, and, in effect, wrest control of their bodies from a patriarchal medical establishment, I contend that this emerging relation between pregnant women and reproductive technologies is a new strategy of a form of power that began to emerge in the late eighteenth century. Indeed, my argument is that the constitution of prenatal impairment, by and through these practices and procedures, is a widening form of modern government that increasingly limits the field of possible conduct in response to pregnancy. Hence, the government of impairment in utero is inextricably intertwined with the government of the maternal body.
Comment: Most useful in teaching on ethical issues at the beginning of life. It can be also used in teaching on the ethics of autonomy, freedom of choice, and feminism in general.