Author Archives: politics

Last Stop of the Academy: Teaching Gender in the Men’s Prison by Jane Chin Davidson and Shreerekha Subramanian

The American penal system is perhaps the world’s greatest example of neoliberal reform wherein prisoners’ access to university education is posited as the means to transform  “criminal” into “citizen.”  As female professors teaching all-male students in a particular MA Humanities course in the Texas state penitentiary, we have the opportunity to address the problematic assumptions that relate to the “authentic” work of a reconstituted materialist feminism – our project adopts an empirical strategy for teaching issues of gender, “race” and relations of power, which complicates the question of the materialist “real” in the context of the academy and the prison. This particular prison institution in Texas was built upon the oldest cotton plantation in the state, emphasizing an American system of punishment that appears to pick up where slavery left off.  Feminist activists such as Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore have advocated against the prison industrial complex based on the growing understanding that the prison is an institution of sexual and racial injustice. Davis looks to communal and educational remedies outside state rehabilitation, a solution that would seem compatible to her role as a university professor.  However, as Davis is aware, the academic system can itself be viewed as another type of industrial complex.  In the current budgetary crises for higher education, business and occupational fields of study become the “useful” educational investments since they can prove their monetary worth.  The subsequent erosion of fields such as ethnic studies, women’s studies, and the humanities in general renders impotent the idea that the university’s imperative is to generate dynamic cultural consciousness.

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Feminization Through Poverty by Karen Bridget Murray

1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is to problematize the taken-for-granted understandings of “poverty” within “feminization of poverty” discourse.[1] Proposed here is an alternative research frame focused on ascertaining how poverty governance produces feminized subjectivities, a lens that would focus on feminization through poverty. The phrase “feminization of poverty” entered scholarly discourse in 1978 when Diana Pearce (1978), a researcher at the Catholic University of America used the phrase to describe the growing preponderance of poverty among Black women and children in urban United States. Since then, poverty’s feminization has become a predominant discourse within feminist scholarship, denoting the manifold ways in which poverty’s feminized character surfaces, persists, and transforms. The feminization of poverty frame has also been productively included in theorizing democracy and the state. (Agathangelou 2004; Bakker 2007; Brodie 1996; Brodie 2008; Dobrowlosky and Jenson 2004; Little 2001; Porter 2003). Critiques of the feminization of poverty frame have focused inter alia on the fallacies and omissions of the focus on feminization processes or on its ideological function. In short, the phrase has been said to lack analytical clarity [2]. In some cases, the feminization of poverty refers to trends concerning the growing number of women living in disadvantage. In other cases, it is used to highlight disparities between male and female poverty rates. Still in other cases, it emphasizes qualitative understandings of poverty whereby women’s poverty is regarded as the most severe. From a different angle, the feminization of poverty discourse hinges upon essentialized notions of femininity and masculinity that shroud from view, for instance, the transgendered elements of poverty or the racialized character of poverty. Joanna Brenner has stressed how the feminization of poverty frame has often advanced a liberal political agenda and hindered a more radical politics that “challenges the hierarchical organization of work and the privatization of care giving,” in a manner that would “generate[…] a more inclusive set of claims.” Wendy McKeen (2009) has made a similar point in the Canadian setting, arguing that feminist advocacy centred on the “feminization of poverty re-affirm[s] an orientation that privilege[s] the strategy of targeting” through means tested programs. In this way, the frame of feminized poverty undermines claims to universal entitlements based upon need and erodes “opportunities for more radical, social justice, oriented forms of political action“(53).

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Women’s Land Rights: Tenure, Organisational Issues, the Local and the Global by Susie Jacobs

This paper discusses women’s relation to land and landed property through an examination of gender relations with regard to land rights and within agrarian reforms. Women’s – especially married women’s – relation to land often has implications for their status as members of a social and political collective.  Moreover, land remains an important livelihood resource in many societies; its importance is likely to increase in time of economic crisis. The current global trend is for women to take more responsibility in agricultural production where they do not already predominate (FAO 2005).

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Reinventing Revolutionary Subjects in Venezuela by Sara C. Motta

This article challenges orthodox Marxist conceptualisations of the revolutionary subject by building on the nearly four decade tradition of autonomist Marxist feminism . It argues that by expanding our conceptualisation of capitalist relations to include the sphere of social reproduction, the creation of a gendered division of labour and the construction of alienated subjectivities, we open a window on the multiple subjects that are at the heart of contemporary anti-capitalist struggles and render visible an increasing feminisation of resistance in Latin America.

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Climate Change and Gender Analysis: Struggles with Neoconservative Backlash in Australian Politics by Uschi Bay and Deborah Western

Why is Gender Relevant to Climate Change?

Thousands of scientists voluntarily contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by reviewing and assessing the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide related to understanding climate change. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The IPCC is an intergovernmental scientific organisation with input from 195 countries and bases its reports on the most recent scientific evidence on climate change and its potential impact. The IPCC has reported that the scientific consensus worldwide is that the earth’s climate is being impacted by human activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC is not alone in coming to this assessment that planet earth is warming and that climate change is likely to have an increasing impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

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bell hooks, Critical Regionalism, and the Politics of Ecological Returns by Christina Van Houten

This essay addresses the ways in which bell hooks’ thinking turns to a politics of critical regionalism, by tracing a line that discursively connects materialist feminism, antiracist activism, and ecological Marxism. In particular, I argue that hooks’ critical regionalism develops in the 1990s, beginning in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990) as her challenge to the exclusionary politics of difference dominant in postmodernist theory and extending to her argument for a spatialized feminist subjectivity in her memoir Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996). We can understand critical regionalism as a cultural movement that, critical of postmodern aesthetics, argues for the persistence of geographical history in contemporary thought. We can read hooks as participating in this cultural logic precisely because she argues for a radical decentering of subjectivity away from patriarchy, racism, and classism and the formation of alternative coalitions on the basis of common local and regional social relations.  This means that hooks turns to critical regionalism and its theories and politics of spatial culture as a way to think through issues of race and gender oppression in the United States and the globalized world.

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Abortion and Choice in the Neoliberal Aftermath by Kate Gleeson

Choice is a key concept in feminist theory that has been coopted by neoliberalism. [1] ‘A woman’s right to choose’ was one of the most effective slogans of second wave feminism, but since the 1990s, choice has been deployed to undermine feminist gains by way of the neoliberal advance of individualism and anti-welfarism. Recently, the relationships between post feminism and neoliberalism, which together promote the ideal of choice for young women in the arenas of work and consumerism, have come to be scrutinised. Most notable in this field is the work of Angela McRobbie and her study of The Aftermath of Feminism (2010), to which the title of my article owes its inspiration. McRobbie identifies one of the hallmarks of post feminism as the “new sexual contract”, which promotes a degree of sexual freedom for young women so long as they fulfil the roles of economic citizenship by working and consuming (2010, 85). In this context ‘choice’ is deployed as a lure for young women to subscribe to the anti feminist conditions of neoliberalism, so that they will decline to organise politically as feminists to disrupt liberal democratic regimes and economies. The choice to be ‘responsibly’ sexual in particular, is valorised by both young women and the dominant discourses of neoliberalism and post feminism.

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For Feminist Consciousness in the Academy by Sarah Amsler

I was recently invited to reflect on the conditions of women in British universities with a group of students and colleagues exploring the politics of the corporate academy. Rather than trying to speak in some hackneyed way for ‘women’, I decided to reflect on the anti-feminist nature of the neoliberal rationalities now dictating academic life within universities, and on the subversions of critical feminist ethics, methodologies and pedagogies in higher education today. I had hoped that this might open space for discussion about how hegemonic masculinities and femininities are being reconstituted through our everyday practices of teaching – including of feminist theory – research, professional labour, and political resistance inside institutions. But while I anticipated challenges to my particular readings of feminist critique and understanding of the intersections of patriarchy, racism and class power in neoliberal institutions, I was unprepared for the hostile reactions to the invocation of feminism itself. ‘Isn’t it sexist’, one woman asked, ‘to keep talking about an ideology that doesn’t include men?’ Another agreed. ‘Feminism has gone too far’, she suggested. ‘It’s not that we don’t know what women went through before, but these things just don’t affect us now. And maybe women want too much’. Finally, there some change of heart, but one attached to a disorienting demand: what is the Feminist Movement’s answer to neoliberal power?

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Occupations and The Struggle Over Reproduction: An Interview with Silvia Federici

Max Haiven

Silvia Federici is a veteran activist and writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York.  Born and raised in Italy, Federici has taught in Italy, Nigeria, and the United States and has been involved in many movements, including feminist, education, and anti-death penalty struggles. Her influential 2004 book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, built on decades of research and activism, offers an account of the relationship between the European witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the rise of capitalism.

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Issue Introduction: Materialist Feminisms Against Neoliberalism

Mary Ellen Campbell and A.L. McCready

Feminism has had many lives. Living in colonial-settler Canada, the editors of this special issue are especially attuned to the forms of imperialist, settler and liberal “feminism” that have motivated a great many social projects. Recently, these include the ostensible concern over the status of women in Afghanistan that has played so well as a rationale for war, the false feminism of micro-credit lending schemes, and the “post-feminist” discrediting of alternative social visions in favour of a corporate or consumer feminism. These faux feminisms occurs alongside the institutional dislocation of women’s and gender studies programs as loci for the generation of transformational knowledge, and the simultaneous incorporation of certain elements of movements and struggles in order to generate “academic captial” for the neoliberal university. We live amidst a rapidly accelerating culture of neoliberal individualism, characterized by the dogged attack by state and business on the material and social protections won by decades of women’s struggle within and against the current system. This neoliberal moment is also characterized by the virulent cult of persecuted white masculinity and the backlash against supposed minority gains that demonstrates the neoconservative social values that a neoliberal culture feeds and begets. There has never been such dire need for decisive, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, transnational feminist analysis, pedagogy and social foment.

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