Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Women Philosophers and Speculative Realism

I'm copying some of this material from my post on Paul Ennis' anotherheideggerblog. To be honest, I hadn't thought that I would be writing about gender issues and speculative realism quite so quickly. I seem to have spent the last fifteen years or so of my life worrying about similar concerns. Starting with my readings prior to university, moving through my undergraduate, masters and doctoral research commitments and interests, up to and including nearly all my conference papers and publications, feminist and gender theory seems to have been a constant in my life. This, admittedly, is probably an unusual state of affairs for a male academic, but it grounds a lot of what, for me, philosophy is about (i.e. theorizing the world, changing the world, making a difference). That said, though, I hadn't anticipated the need to render this explicit quite so quickly, particularly as I am in assimilation and research mode with regard to SR and OOO (a rather steep reading and learning curve). Anyway, to the point at hand, what is one to make of the absence of women philosophers from SR and OOO?

(1) There are simply far fewer women in philosophy than men and, therefore, one shouldn’t be too surprised at their absence from Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology. See, for example: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/where-are-all-the-women/ Statistically, given the youth of SR/OOO, one shouldn’t be to shocked by the absence of women from the movement. But please don’t let us ignore Isabelle Stengers who is listed under the faculty for Speculative Heresy.

(2) A gender point about the discipline of metaphysics is important. Namely, metaphysics is frequently viewed as a self-evident danger zone or no go area for feminist philosophers (although not necessarily all women philosophers), primarily because of its associations with essentialism and all of the patriarchal baggage that has gone along with this in the past, i.e. the attribution of roles and capacities to an essence is a remarkably powerful way of legitimating a particular social and political state of affairs. The linkages between SR/OOO and metaphysics are, I think, fairly clear, and this may serve as a partial explanation of why SR/OOO is unpalatable to women philosophers. That said, though, there are women philosophers who are concerned with thinking metaphysics otherwise (Christine Battersby's The Phenomenal Woman: Feminist Metaphysics and the Patterns of Identity is a good example)

(3) There is also an important point about women in the academy/HE and what they need to do to succeed that men don't. That is, there is a quite a lot of socio-cultural and institutional pressure on women philosophers to conform with certain philosophical standards in order to get an academic post, tenure, publications etc. that aren’t present to the same degree for men. Basically women may need, and/or may minimally simply believe of feel, that they must be quite conservative in their philosophical interests in order to be taken seriously and succeed academically. Next contrast this required or perceived conservatism with Speculative realism. It seems to me that SR and OOO are attempting to rock the philosophical boat (or get out of it completely), and this may be a rather a risky endeavour for women who until very recently weren’t even allowed passage on board. Signing up to a new philosophical movement may be a risky business for many women.

(4) However, in response to point (3), there are probably a number of women philosophers who could be classed as belonging to the SR/OOO fold and/or would be sympathetic to the writings and ideas if exposed to them. Some of the more philosophically based ecofeminists might count, I am thinking of Val Plumwood particularly here. There are also plenty of feminist philosophers attempting to rethink matter, materiality, embodiment, space and time in a manner that is conducive with SR or OOO. Figures such as Elizabeth Grosz and Donna Haraway might be notable here.

Clearly there may be an advertising or PR problem with regard to the absence of women from SR and OOO and - in a Latourian sense - there is a need for an actor such as SR/OOO to make alliances in order to survive, grow and prosper. We may just need to network better - and if you read any material by cyberfeminists such as Sadie Plant, or some of the religious feminists that I write about, you may subscribe to the view that this is what women may do rather better than men.

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