Against purity : identity, western feminisms and Indian complications
This thesis argues that Western feminist theoretical models of identity can be productively complicated by the insights of postcolonial feminisms. In particular, it explores ways that Western feminist theory might more adequately sustain a focus on 'women' while keeping open a space for differences such as race and nation. Part One identifies a number of themes that emerge from recent Indian feminist scholarship on the intersections of sex, gender, race, nation and community identities. Part Two uses these insights to look critically at the work of four Western theorists, Rosi Braidotti, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway and Luce Irigaray. I argue that strategies which privilege sexual difference as primary cannot deal adequately with differences such as race and nation. But I also argue that strategies which privilege destabilizing identity can be equally constrained by the logic of dualisms which has made it so difficult for feminists to sustain a focus on women and their differences. Part Three discusses how the insights to be drawn from Indian ferninisms might be taken on board by Western ferninisms in order to develop more complex models of power, identity and the self. Throughout the thesis I draw on a Foucauldian understanding of power as productive, and on Foucault's insight that subjects and identities emerge, not through the imperatives of a single symbolic system, but through the intersection of multiple networks of discourses, material practices and institutions. I argue that, by attending to women's complex location within intersecting landscapes of gender, nation, race and other community identities, feminist models of identity can dispense with a logic of dualisms in order to redefine, and not only destabilize 'women' as the subject of/for feminism. This requires working against purity on three levels. First, it requires a model of power that gives up on the search for pure, power-free zones and works instead with the instabilities power produces as it both enables and constrains women. Second, it requires seeing 'women' as a complex, impure category that bleeds across the apparently coherent borders of identity categories such as gender, race and nation, and contesting discursive constructs of 'Woman' as the pure space of origin upon which these apparently discrete categories stand. Third, it requires the development of alternative models of the self that take these complex, impure spaces as a valid and valorised position from which to act and to speak.