Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Feminist methodology vs. feminist content


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Here's a nice article by Ingrid Robeyns posing the question of whether there is a distinctively feminist economic methodology. It also poses the question, at a higher level of abstraction, of whether for any academic enterprise "Feminist X," what we are, or should, be talking about is the X study of issues that concern women or a peculiarly feminist (non-androcentric or womanly) way of doing X.

I'm inclined to go for the former. I don't know that much about econ (when I created this blog I subtitled it to reflect my hope to make it a group blog that included economists) but when it comes to my field I'm firmly committed to the idea that there is no distinctively feminist (or non-androcentric or womanly) way of doing philosophy. Feminist philosophy means (1) picking up philosophically interesting issues that have been ignored because they were "women's issues" and (2) arguing against biased, sexist views.

The paradigm of feminist philosophy is Judith Jarvis Thompson's classic article "In Defense of Abortion." Here is a very philosophically interesting issue, one that hits central areas in metaphysics like the problem of personal identity and in ethics, that didn't get much attention earlier because it was a woman's issue. Thompson, an excellent, mainline analytic philosopher write the classic article--so classic that if you google you won't even be able to find it because it's buried under secondary literature and links to student plagiarism services that produce term papers on it.

There is an even more abstract issue: for any disadvantaged group, X, does fairness to x people mean changing the system to operate in a way that's more conducive to (what are taken to be) x people's culture, interests, values, ways of thinking or does it mean fixing the system so that (1) we recognize the disadvantages x people are at, the discrimination they face, etc. and (2) working to fix things so that x's can plug into the niches formerly reserved for white males.

Here again, I go with the latter interpretation. When I was in SDS as an undergraduate we had a discussion about this and I was booed off the floor by someone who asked rhetorically, "Would you just want them to have color TV sets?" Of course I would--because that's what "they" and most other people want. I hit the same wall later when I was involved in the movement to promote women's ordination in the Episcopal Church and comrades in arms asserted that the aim was not to "plug women into the same roles men had occupied" but to work for structural change.

Well, structural change is all very well but when it comes to improving the situation of members of disadantaged groups per se that is just a matter of removing the disadvantages that prevent them from getting what members of advantaged groups get, i.e. leveling the playing field so that women and members of racial minorities, can occupy the same roles that white males do--however good or bad those roles might be.

17 comments:

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Boofykatz said...

I read your Blog often and have found it inspiring, but like all of us, even Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins, you sometimes hit troughs of banality. Ophelia Benson at B&W is good at pricking such absurdity. Fortunately she seems to be a fan so she has not savaged this. It may be that I am misinterpreting your article, but I read it as suggesting that we should cross the road to mop the brow of 'alienated' minorities - always. I doubt that was your intent, because some, or indeed most, minorities are just that; because their ideas are so wide of the rational mark that they thoroughly deserve incarceration in some ten thousand year bunker. Some minorities do not need protection, they need obliteration, and I suspect we largely agree which ones are which.

H. E. said...

Huh? When did I ever propose mopping anyone's brow? Crudely, my program is cultural genocide: I assume that what most people want is the life that upper middle class citizens in affluent countries live--and that for the most part those that are "alienated" are trying to beat us because they can't join us. Buy 'em off, I say--obliterate their rotten cultures and liberate them.

If there are some individuals who really want to preserve their crap "cultures," who would, even if they had equal opportunity to get the education, jobs, and other goodies we enjoy and the wherewithall to fully assimilate, would still prefer to live in mud huts (albeit with satellite dishes), fight tribal wars and beat up on women, by all means throw them in jail, deport them, or put them on an island where they can kill one another off.

I just disagree with conservatives on empirical grounds--I think that they greatly underestimate the pervasiveness of discrimination and the difficulty of assimilating, particularly for members of visible minorities.

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"I haven't worked on Cady's Life for ages. In my mind I've worked out exactly what happens next, but the story doesn't seem to be coming along very well. I might never finish it, and it'll wind up in the wastepaper basket or the stove. That's a horrible thought, but then I say to myself, "At the age of 14 and with so little experience, you can't write about philosophy.' So onward and upward, with renewed spirits. It'll all work out, because I'm determined to write! Yours, Anne M. Frank

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