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Crenshaw, Kimberlé, and . Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color

1991, Stanford Law Review 43(6): 1241-1299.

Summary: The concept of intersectionality is Crenshaw’s rich contribution to our embattled understanding of identity politics. To illustrate the danger of traditional identity groupings, Crenshaw turns our attention to the complexity of inhabiting two such distinct categories at the same time as a black woman. While it is true that a black woman can hardly be considered essentially black (on account of the primacy of men of color over women of color) or essentially a woman (on account of the primacy of white women over non-white ones), intersectionality does not aim to dismantle these general categories altogether. Instead, it seeks to introduce an ethical and political pragmatics of identity. The way Crenshaw proposes this should be done in the case of black women is by treating the two inherent identity categories – black and female – conjunctively rather than disjunctively as it has always been done. The resulting approach promises to improve our sense of the reality of “social location” and is thus of great value to all agents and processes of social health and justice.

Comment: Assigning this text is best in classes on women's rights and identity politics. It will be particularly useful in inspiring discussions on different types of discrimination affecting different groups, and the relations between them.

Demaria, Christina, and . The Performative Body of Marina Abramović Rerelating (in) Time and Space

2004, The European Journal of Women's Studies 1(3): 295-307.

Abstract: Can a performance be analysed as a textual practice? Starting from this question, the article tries to describe the effets du sens (meaning effects) of some of the work of Marina Abramović, a Serbian performer and visual artist. From the 1970s, when the so-called body art emerged as a visual genre, offering the artist’s body as a naked site of inscription, up to the present, when performing has become a more playful and direct transmission of energy between the doer and the viewer, the work of Abramović represents an effective and powerful example of the body-as-a-text in which subjectivity can be re-expressed and reinvented through the transformations of the relation between time and space. In the strong relationship created between the performer and the audience, what is enacted is a translation–transduction of material and cognitive meanings that results in a redefinition of a subjective and, simultaneously, collective experience of identity.

Comment: This is a prime example of feminist aesthetics and its treatment of the human body. Demaria's main contention is that performance art can be understood textually and representationally even if it does not lay an explicit claim to either type of content. She agrees with Judith Butler's notion of citationality as a perpetual re-inscription of power norms and codes onto the human body. Since bodily presence plays such an important part in most performance art, the question of the possibility of embodied meaning arises naturally. Demaria uses the art of Marina Abramović to show that the question should be answered in the affirmative. Abramović's body exercises discursive transgressions (of language and code) in ways that, according to Demaria, establish a new language of dissent.

Eva Kit Wah Man, and . Issues of Contemporary Art and Aesthetics in Chinese Context

2015, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Publisher’s Note: This book discusses how China’s transformations in the last century have shaped its arts and its philosophical aesthetics. For instance, how have political, economic and cultural changes shaped its aesthetic developments? Further, how have its long-standing beliefs and traditions clashed with modernizing desires and forces, and how have these changes materialized in artistic manifestations? In addition to answering these questions, this book also brings Chinese philosophical concepts on aesthetics into dialogue with those of the West, making an important contribution to the fields of art, comparative aesthetics and philosophy.

Comment: A timely discussion of the influence of the last century’s political, economic, and cultural changes in China upon its philosophical aesthetics. Man’s book addresses a number of key neglected topics of comparative aesthetics between China and the West, contemporary aesthetics and art in Hong Kong, the relation of gender and art in the politics of identity, and the role of tradition in new creative practices. Chapter 4 introduces the leaders of the major schools of aesthetics in new China, including Li Zehou. This text is best used in a comparative aesthetics context, especially in discussions of contemporary aesthetic mediums.

Related reading:

Haslanger, Sally, and . Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?

2000, Nous 34(1): 31-55.

Abstract: This paper proposes social constructionist accounts of gender and race. The focus of the inquiry–inquiry aiming to provide resources for feminist and antiracist projects–are the social positions of those marked for privilege or subordination by observed or imagined features assumed to be relevant to reproductive function, or geographical origins. I develop these ideas and propose that other gendered and racialized phenomena are usefully demarcated and explained by reference to these social positions. In doing so, I address the concern that attempts to define race or gender are misguided because they either assume a false commonality or marginalize some members of the group in question.

Comment: Seminal reading for modules on gender or race.

Longino, Helen, and . Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry

1990, Princeton University Press

Publisher’s Note: Conventional wisdom has it that the sciences, properly pursued, constitute a pure, value-free method of obtaining knowledge about the natural world. In light of the social and normative dimensions of many scientific debates, Helen Longino finds that general accounts of scientific methodology cannot support this common belief. Focusing on the notion of evidence, the author argues that a methodology powerful enough to account for theories of any scope and depth is incapable of ruling out the influence of social and cultural values in the very structuring of knowledge. The objectivity of scientific inquiry can nevertheless be maintained, she proposes, by understanding scientific inquiry as a social rather than an individual process. Seeking to open a dialogue between methodologists and social critics of the sciences, Longino develops this concept of “contextual empiricism” in an analysis of research programs that have drawn criticism from feminists. Examining theories of human evolution and of prenatal hormonal determination of “gender-role” behavior, of sex differences in cognition, and of sexual orientation, the author shows how assumptions laden with social values affect the description, presentation, and interpretation of data. In particular, Longino argues that research on the hormonal basis of “sex-differentiated behavior” involves assumptions not only about gender relations but also about human action and agency. She concludes with a discussion of the relation between science, values, and ideology, based on the work of Habermas, Foucault, Keller, and Haraway.

Comment: Longino offers a way to accomodate critiques of science as being socially constructed with the claim that science is objective. This contextual empiricism is an interesting solution, and would provide a useful point of discussion in an exploration of these issues in a course that discusses scientific objectivity.

Nussbaum, Martha, and . Sex and Social Justice

1999, Oxford University Press.

Back matter: What does it mean to respect the dignity of a human being? What sort of support do human capacities demand from the world, and how should we think about this support when we encounter differences of gender or sexuality? How should we think about each other across divisions that a legacy of injustice has created? In Sex and Social Justice, Martha Nussbaum delves into these questions and emerges with a distinctive conception of feminism that links feminist inquiry closely to the important progress that has been made during the past few decades in articulating theories of both national and global justice. Growing out of Nussbaum’s years of work with an international development agency connected with the United Nations, this collection charts a feminism that is deeply concerned with the urgent needs of women who live in hunger and illiteracy, or under unequal legal systems. Offering an internationalism informed by development economics and empirical detail, many essays take their start from the experiences of women in developing countries. Nussbaum argues for a universal account of human capacity and need, while emphasizing the essential role of knowledge of local circumstance. Further chapters take on the pursuit of social justice in the sexual sphere, exploring the issue of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Nussbaum’s arguments are shaped by her work on Aristotle and the Stoics and by the modern liberal thinkers Kant and Mill. She contends that the liberal tradition of political thought holds rich resources for addressing violations of human dignity on the grounds of sex or sexuality, provided the tradition transforms itself by responsiveness to arguments concerning the social shaping of preferences and desires. She challenges liberalism to extend its tradition of equal concern to women, always keeping both agency and choice as goals. With great perception, she combines her radical feminist critique of sex relations with an interest in the possibilities of trust, sympathy, and understanding. Sex and Social Justice will interest a wide readership because of the public importance of the topics Nussbaum addresses and the generous insight she shows in dealing with these issues. Brought together for this timely collection, these essays, extensively revised where previously published, offer incisive political reflections by one of our most important living philosophers.

Comment: Chapter 'Judging Other Cultures: The Case of Genital Mutilation' can be particularly useful in illustrating the debate on universality vs relativity of ethical norms and values, and in discussing the legitimacy of imposing cultural norms of one culture upon another.

Okin, Susan Moller, and . Justice, gender, and the family

2008, New York: Basic Books.

Publisher: In the first feminist critique of modern political theory, Okin shows how the failure to apply theories of justice to the family not only undermines our most cherished democratic values but has led to a major crisis over gender-related issues.

Comment: This book offers a feminist discussion of various theories of justice, arguing that they should include a more comprehensive account on issues related to the formation and functioning of families. In teaching, it is particularly useful as a critique of Rawls' theory.

Okruhlik, Kathleen, and . Gender and the Biological Sciences

1994, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 24(sup1): 21-42.

Summary: Okhrulik offers a feminist critique of biology, a “real” science, to show that it is not just the “soft” social sciences that are affected by bias. She argues that preconceptions can interfere not only in cases of “bad science”, but even when the rules of scientific practice are followed. There is no safeguard against the effects of bias in the context of discovery. Even if theories are rigorously tested to remove bias, some theories might not even be generated and so would not get to the point of being counted as competitors in the testing stage. This is illustrated by a number of case studies. Okhrulik concludes that a diversity of viewpoints is crucial.

Comment: Presents a good case for why feminist critiques are relevant even to "harder" sciences, made more salient with easy-to-understand examples. Raises issues of theory-ladenness of observation and underdetermination of theory. A good introduction to reasons to doubt that science is completely "objective".

Robeyns, Ingrid, and . Gender and the Metric of Justice

2010, "in Brighouse, H. & Robeyns, I. Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 215-236."

Content: A relatively short but very illuminating discussion of the application of two key metrics (social primary goods and capabilities) to the issue of gender injustice in non-ideal circumstances.

Comment: Offers a clear account of gender and what falls under 'gender justice'. Easy to read with some useful exposition but a reader would benefit from some background knowledge. Probably best as a specialised or further reading.

West, Shearer, and . Gender and Portraiture

2004, In: Portraiture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 144-161.

Summary: The gender of both artist and sitter needs to be taken into account when considering the history of portraiture. Explores how and why women were often portrayed in certain roles (as goddesses, historical or religious figures, allegorical embodiments of abstract notions). Discusses why many women artists before the 20th century were portraitists and considers a few examples. Also highlights changing notions of masculinity in portraiture.

Comment: Useful in aesthetics classes discussing portraiture, depiction and representation, as well as philosophy of gender classes discussing representations of women.

Artworks to use with this text:

Lotte Laserstein, Self-Portrait with Cat (1928) vs Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)

Both portraits were painted in 1920s Germany by artists linked to the New Objectivity art movement. Still, there is a notable difference between the 'objective' view of the male artist and the subjective self-image of the woman artist.

Elizabeth Siddal, Self-Portrait (1854)

There's a marked contrast between the unhappiness and fatigue visible in this self-portrait and the beauty and eroticism in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beatrix (c.1862) in which he transfers the ideal qualities of Dante's Beatrice into the real portrait of Siddal.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as "La Pittura" (c. 1630)

It could be said that the artist is complicit in the tendency of portraitists to generalize their women subjects as she embodied herself as the allegory of Painting. Nevertheless, Artemisia does not show herself in an idealized way and by self-consciously manipulating a set of conventions makes a unique contribution to the corpus of self-portraiture.