Parite and the multiculturalism debates in France : considering French Caribbean perspectives.
Introduction: What is this thesis about?
Alain Touraine (2000) has asked the question `Can We Live Together? ' His book is
just one recent example of a wide debate on how political community can be built and
reconciled with differences among its members, what Buber called mutuality, what
Linklater has discussed as `community', or what is sometimes understood as `social
solidarity' in European Union debates (Buber, 1961; Linklater, 1998). Touraine,
unlike some others in this debate, emphasises the importance of building community
on the basis of a broad recognition of difference amongst its members rather than
through the assertion of single claims of universal validity enforced (whether through
one form of social power or another) across differences, eclipsing or oppressing them.
The recognition of difference, or, more specifically, the realisation of the ideal of a
community which is capable at the same time of constituting an effective collectivity
while recognising rather than submerging or oppressing difference, is key to
Touraine's work. So it is too in that of many other writers and activists in the post communist, post-liberal, arguably fragmented and allegedly `postmodern' world in
which we have found ourselves since 1989.
Feminist theory and feminist practice have their own distinctive ways of approaching
these questions. This thesis is concerned to develop a critique of particular arguments
in French feminism which revolve around these problems. But the arguments which
the thesis takes up have a significance not merely for a set of internal debates within
feminist scholarship, important though those may be in themselves, but also in the
context of a wider set of conversations about the nature of political community. They
relate directly to political action, to resistance and community building, as well as to
theoretical argument. What all the writers in this broad field have in common,
including feminist scholars, is the view that such a community can only be formed by
what Hannah Arendt (1973,1993) identified as self-aware, active citizens who take
their differences seriously and who act as well as think democratically. But the
specifically feminist arguments, from the relatively liberal Pateman (1989,1994) to
the radical feminism of Irigaray (1994,2000), see this debate as flawed unless it can
recognise both the specific disadvantages experienced and the specific contributions
offered by women