Between Feminism and Materialism: A Question of Method (Breaking Feminist Waves)

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  1. Gillian Howie
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  3. Between Feminism and Materialism: A Question of Method by Gillian Howie (English
  4. Between Feminism and Materialism : A Question of Method

It has also informed the depoliticization of family violence services. In sum, the predominant antiviolence political strategies emanating from both radical and liberal feminists in the global North in the s and s often focused on demanding state support services and juridical responses to violence against women. These demands were enormously successful on paper. However, the results—more shelters, better legislation for women who are victims of violence—have not succeeded in significantly reducing violence against women.

This is because state services, particularly the criminal justice system, reproduce the structural inequalities and violence that enable violence against women. While the importance of these services for the immediate wellbeing and safety of many women must not be ignored, neither must their gaps, exclusions, and inadequacies. Where state services do not address the structures of violence that support individual expressions of violence, they become complicit in these structures through that omission.

Indeed, beyond very real and important logistical barriers a lack of services in an area, linguistic barriers, lack of knowledge about services, etc. The possible benefits, on the other hand, are limited. Further, depending on the immigration status of a woman or her partner, either one could face deportation if state services become involved in their private life.

When seeking help a woman will attempt to ascertain how she will be treated. Jennifer Koshan provides an excellent illustration of this argument in her discussion of the options available to women living in small northern Aboriginal communities, where the services are limited, the racism of the Canadian justice system is potent, and the possibility of anonymity is nonexistent.

Mandatory charging provides a particularly potent illustration of the inadequacies of the criminal justice approach. Many jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have adopted mandatory charging policies in cases of domestic violence. This shift emphasized that domestic violence was no longer viewed as a civil matter being brought by an individual against a perpetrator, but rather as a criminal matter being prosecuted by the state.

Mandatory charging provides a level of assurance for victims of violence in that, on paper, once there is evidence that a violation has occurred, they are not subject to the whims and prejudices of individual police officers; in addition, the judicial machinery of the state takes responsibility for pursuing the case.

However, in practice this is not always the case. Mandatory charging has in fact led to increased vulnerability for many women. Further, coupled with the gender-neutral language around domestic violence, it has led to an increase in dual charging, wherein a man who is being arrested simultaneously accuses his wife of abuse, and both end up being incarcerated. The impact of this development falls directly on the shoulders of poor people and people of color, who feel the aggression of the prison system most consistently.

Over the past forty years Angela Davis , has voiced a powerful critique of criminalization as a solution to violence against women, arguing that for women in communities that are intensely policed and criminalized, increased juridicization makes women less safe, not more so. She thus argues for feminist analysis and action rooted against structures of racism, capitalism, and imperialism:.

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We need to develop an approach that relies on political mobilization rather than legal remedies or social service delivery. We need to fight for temporary and long-term solutions to violence and simultaneously think about and link global capitalism, global colonialism, racism, and patriarchy.

Davis , 5. For centuries indigenous communities in Canada have been targeted by the military and police. It is therefore not surprising that Aboriginal women have pursued antiviolence strategies that name colonial violence, rather than relying on violent state structures. The overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in Canada as victims of violence must be understood in the context of a colonial strategy that sought to dehumanize Aboriginal women.

While the motivations and intersections may differ, NWAC has found that colonization remains the constant thread connecting the different forms of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada. The value of Aboriginal women is diminished by the persistence of patriarchal values that, consciously or not, continue to influence and regulate social norms and gender relations. Sisters in Spirit , 2.

The program addressed violence against Aboriginal women in general, but its primary focus was the Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered over the past three decades in Canada and the limited state response. The Sisters in Spirit campaign emerged following a long history of impunity for violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.

Although the latter incident was the biggest serial killer case in Canadian history, it was characterized by years of limited response by the police. The Sisters in Spirit campaign sought to put an end to this impunity, challenging both individual violence and structural violence through a feminist, anticolonial framework. The campaign is an example of local organizing working in concert with international organizations. International attention and grassroots organizing annual vigils and marches continue in an attempt to make violence against Aboriginal women visible and therefore abolish the impunity.

This is a good example of an international human rights framework providing useful tools for local organizing and greater scope for voicing demands. This erroneous discourse is mobilized to justify and mask impunity for high rates of violence. This exemplifies the complex relationship between antiviolence activists—particularly those from marginalized communities—and the state. The Sisters in Spirit campaign is at once pointing to the ongoing colonial violence of the Canadian state and demanding protection from that state for individual acts of violence that emanate from these structural relations.

This is not a contradictory position, but rather a complex one that must be pursued for the safety and dignity of the women most marginalized by state violence, inside and outside its borders. Unfortunately this example also demonstrates the limited reach of international norms. In autumn the Canadian government cut funding for the continuation of the Sisters in Spirit project. The withdrawal of funding was ironic and clandestine, given that it occurred only months after the Canadian government responded to Amnesty International and the CEDAW Committee about the concerns uncovered by the Sisters in Spirit initiative, arguing that it had earmarked a great deal of funding for addressing the problem of violence against Aboriginal women, including providing the initial funding for Sisters in Spirit itself CEDAW Committee However, I argue that the withdrawal of funding is the result of the increasingly punitive, austere response to violence against women under neoliberalism.

This is discussed in the final section of the chapter. First I turn to developments in international human rights organizing. The Beijing Platform for Action defines violence against women as. United Nations , 73, As a result of global feminist organizing, this definition offers a fairly expansive articulation of violence against women, although it is specific to embodied and not structural violence.

However, to suggest that this definition crystallizes one particular theoretical approach to violence against women would be misplaced; rather, it is the result of feminist political action emanating from different theoretical positions and geopolitical locations, and their engagements with both state-level and international institutions. International human rights, as a normative framework and political tool for addressing violence against women, falls on the fault line between progression and regression.

This section discusses the ambivalent history of the relationship between feminist antiviolence activism and human rights. The UN Third World Conference on Women, held in Nairobi in , had resulted in the first UN General Assembly Resolution on domestic violence; however, the resolution was not gender specific, 18 nor did it offer much in the way of political or legal teeth. These strategies were increased social services e.

This recommendation sought to make explicit the gendered nature of violence in the home and to broaden the scope from violence in the home to all forms of gendered violence. The recommendation led to p. These events mark a watershed in international organizing against gender-based violence. However, although feminist success in incorporating violence against women into the UN agenda was a new development, antiviolence feminist organizing across borders was far from new.

While feminists in the global North focused largely on the state as their entry point for intervention, feminist movements in the global South had been analyzing global processes of exploitation and violence. Indeed, in the s, before transnational theorizing on violence against women was on the radar of many feminists in the global North, Latin American feminist activists were making important links among US imperialism, state militarization, and violence against women in the home.

Their activism took on these multiple sites of struggle simultaneously. Lanza argued that the militarization of Honduras planted the seed for a culture of violence that was made manifest not just in military torture and disappearances, but also in the home. Thus, feminist activists rejected the presence of the military, both national and foreign. Among other actions, in a group of feminist activists went on a hunger strike for fourteen days and ten hours to protest obligatory military service in Honduras.

Gillian Howie

Through this action they made explicit the links among state militarization, imperial occupation, and violence against women. Their demands were met, and obligatory military service was abolished in Honduras. Although this example of feminist organizing in Honduras cannot be used to generalize about theory and strategy in other parts of the global South, it provides a useful context for the advent of the human rights approach to violence against women.

Rather than a leap from the domestic to the international by feminists of the global North, the human rights approach emerged through decades of organizing by feminists of the global South and North and their engagement with international organizations. Feminist analyses p. Miller notes that sexual violence, in particular, seems to have resonated in international political circles, perhaps because it embodied the gendered relations of power manifested in gender-based violence. She points to the ambivalence of violence against women read in public health or human rights terms: while the assertion that violence against women as a human rights violation has enormous transformative potential, it also has the potential to be read in regressive terms as a cry for protection.

Similarly, Ratna Kapur notes the potential of this discourse to position women particularly women of the global South as perpetual victims. Indeed, at the same time that feminist activists have used human rights tools to illuminate and eradicate particular vulnerabilities to violence in different global spaces, imperial powers have used violence against women to justify racist policies within their borders and occupation of lands outside their borders.

In writing on international law and colonialism, Elizabeth Philipose argues:. This is not to suggest that rape and sexual assault against women ought not to be prosecuted; rather, it is to draw attention to the form that prosecution might take, and the functions of international law given its colonial intent and foundations. Philipose , This strategy is far from new.

This old colonial strategy has been remapped onto human rights structures through the language of cultural violence, which ascribes an inherent violence to certain non-Western cultures and places these in opposition to ostensibly noncultural, universal human rights. This framing accomplishes a few things: it binds violence to a culture, erases the possibility of violence in the dominant culture, and erases the possibility of resistance from within a culture.

Himani Bannerji offers a potent challenge to this strategy, confronting the heavy silence around violence against women in communities of color in Canada. She p. In return for proclaiming a primordial traditionality they are left alone as rulers of their own communities. Bannerji , — The culture versus rights dichotomy obfuscates what should be the central focus of these crimes—an extremely violent abuse of power—in the interest of subscribing to a binary that, in its rigidity, is unable to provide space for the agency of, or solidarity with, the women who are victims of these crimes, and may indeed facilitate their further oppression.

Not only does this framing position Muslim women as victims of their culture, in its reliance on a dichotomy between culture and nonculture i. This conflation was central to the rhetoric justifying the US-led occupation of Afghanistan 22 and is consistently recycled to shore up racist policymaking in the West. Following is an illustration of the ways in which these structures are made manifest in the lives of racialized immigrant communities in Canada.

In Aqsa Parvez was killed in her Mississauga home by her father and brother. The youngest of eight children, she was sixteen years old. In the summer of her father and brother were tried and found guilty of murder. My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. Minister Ambrose drew on this report to suggest intensifying screening in Canadian immigration. Beyond the deep racism informing this reaction, identifying insufficient screening as the aspect of Canadian immigration policies and procedures that causes problems for immigrant women is tragically ironic.

Today these same issues and actions are often advanced through a professionalized, individualized, criminalized service-provision agenda. Gillian Walker argues that domestic violence has increasingly p. Walker traces theoretical and strategic debates in mainstream feminist organizations in North America, noting that organizers and service providers chose depoliticized language that they thought would yield state responses. These choices—though they may have expedited short-term gains—have ultimately undermined transformative organizing around violence against women and inhibited grassroots alliance building within and across borders.

This move toward depoliticized antiviolence work cannot be understood outside of the shifting political economy, and in particular the increasingly punitive austerity of neoliberalism. The welfare state, as noted by Amina Mama in a discussion of the United Kingdom, was premised on a system of race and gendered exclusions; thus, one should not reify this moment as one we should attempt to return to.

However, neither should we ignore the political space made available by welfare state policies and thinking, space that feminists used to transform responses and services to violence against women in a number of countries in a few short decades. Through neoliberal policies that have intensified over the past two decades, this space has increasingly been encroached upon. As such, many feminist organizations that existed in the West in spaces of relative stability and autonomy from the state now must scramble and compete for funding, twisting their mandates through feats of grant-writing acrobatics in order to stay afloat.

In this climate, many antiviolence activists—particularly feminists of color—are calling for creative, progressive solutions to ending violence against women. Common themes that emerged from this conference, and subsequent publications and activism, are strategies that are community driven, antiracist, and transnational. How, then, can communities come together to challenge violence against women and build safe, equitable spaces?

As mentioned previously, indigenous communities in Canada and the United States are exploring restorative justice as an alternative to criminal justice, focusing on local anticolonial solutions, long-term safety for women, and overall community health. Although this should not be looked upon as a panacea, it offers promise in concert with community education.

Communities Against Rape and Abuse CARA , a grassroots antirape organizing project in Seattle, suggests that communities develop accountability strategies based on prioritizing the self-determination p. Its antiviolence model is based on community engagement and education. The pledge reads:. Violence against women hurts families, children and the whole community. As a member of this community, I commit myself to ending violence against women!

I commit myself to working with the community to collectively confront cases of violence against women without the police and to work together so that violence against women stops happening. I will dedicate myself to creating relationships based on respect, love and mutual support and to struggling for justice and liberation on a personal and community level.

Sista II Sista , Inherent in these examples is a simultaneous engagement with race, class, and gender. Andrea Smith , argues that an antiracist approach to violence against women is not one that includes women of color, but one that is premised on answering the question: What would it take to end violence against women of color?

This sentiment echoes the challenge made by bell hooks, cited at the beginning of this chapter. As neoliberal retrenchment has snatched back many of the social gains made by feminists in the s and s, the response must not be one of defense. Instead, by reflecting on the limitations of antiviolence work that lacks an analysis of imperialism, racism, homophobia, and capitalism, and in rising to face new forms of sexism, austerity, conservatism, and xenophobia, feminist challenges to violence must expand, not contract.

We seek to build movements that not only end violence, but that create a society based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity. In this society, safety and security will not be premised on violence or the threat of violence; it will be based on a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples. Agathangelou, Anna. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Find this resource:. Amnesty International. Arat-Koc, Sedef. Toronto: Intercede. Baskin, Cynthia. Toronto: Sumach Press. Bannerji, Himani. Bhattacharjee, Anannya. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, — New York and London: Routledge.

Communities Against Rape and Abuse. Cambridge: South End Press. Connors, Jane. London and New York: Zed Books. Crenshaw, Kimberle. Davis, Angela. Women, Race and Class. New York: Random House. Federici, Silvia. New York: Autonomedia. Galloway, Gloria. Globe and Mail. Hill-Collins, Patricia. Hooks, Bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.

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Boston: South End Press. Color of Violence: The Incite! Jiwani, Yasmin, and Young, Mary Lynn. Kapur, Ratna. Koshan, Jennifer. Boyd, 85— Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Lanza, Gladys. On-site facilitation and translation by Karen Spring. MacKinnon, Catherine. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Mama, Amina. McClintock, Anne. Merry, Sally Engle. Miller, Alice.

Between Feminism and Materialism: A Question of Method by Gillian Howie (English

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