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Hypatia, Inc.

Introduction. Border Crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to


Philosophy (Part I)
Author(s): Uma Narayan and Sandra Harding
Source: Hypatia, Vol. 13, No. 2, Border Crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist
Challenges to Philosophy (Part 1) (Spring, 1998), pp. 1-6
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Hypatia, Inc.
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Introduction. Border Crossings:


Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist

Challenges to Philosophy (Part I)


UMA NARAYAN AND SANDRA HARDING

A considerable amount of feminist thinking today works across borders in


ways that unsettle familiar philosophical and political frameworks. It cuts
across the borders of traditional disciplinary configurations, borrowing, incor-

porating, and transforming the methodological approaches as well as the


concrete concerns of the disciplines. Moreover, feminist work is increasingly

attentive to factors such as class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and


religion that configure the lives of different groups of women and men in
multiple ways within contemporary cultures and nation-states. This work also
crosses regional, national, and continental boundaries, as feminists find they
must "think globally, act locally," as the popular slogan has it. What happens
"here" affects what can be thought and done "there," and vice versa. This kind
of feminist work is committed to articulating a political vision that is responsive to the difference such interconnections make both in the perspectives of
feminist theorists and in the interests of women. The shape of the conceptual
frameworks that guide public policy can be a matter of life and death for both
men and women, not only locally but also across the borders of other nationstates.

Most significantly, these essays bring to their focuses on philosophical issues


the new angles of vision created by the multicultural, global, and postcolonial

feminisms that have been developing around us. Their concerns cannot simply

be added to those of the mainstream feminist philosophies of the last few


decades without disturbing the latter, any more than the mainstream feminist

philosophical concerns could be added to conventional philosophical categories and assumptions and leave the latter untroubled. Indeed, these multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminist concerns transform mainstream notions
of experience, human rights, the origins of philosophic issues, philosophic uses
of metaphors of the family, white antiracism, human progress, scientific progHypatia vol. 13, no. 2 (Spring 1998) ? by Uma Narayan and Sandra Harding

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Hypatia

ress, modernity, the unity of scientific method, the desirability of universal


knowledge claims, and other ideas central to philosophy.

It is worth recollecting that the deepest forms of sexism and androcentrism-the ones most difficult even to identify, let alone to eradicate, have
not been those visible in the intentional actions of individuals (which is not to
excuse such overt or covert sexism and androcentrism). It has not been sexist

or androcentric motivations or prejudices of individuals-their false beliefs


and bad attitudes-that has given women the most trouble. Rather, it has been
the institutional, societal, and civilizational or philosophic forms of sexism and
androcentrism that have exerted the most powerful effects on women's and
men's lives-the forms least visible to us in our daily lives. The discouraging

news for Enlightenment enthusiasts is that being very smart and well intentioned has not been sufficient to prevent us from enacting and supporting the
most egregious of sexist and androcentric practices. Similarly, these multicultural and postcolonial works draw our attention to the institutional, societal, and philosophical forms of racism, ethnocentrism, and Eurocentrism.

They take a perspective (a standpoint, as some would put it) "from elsewhere"
to reveal the frameworks that structure our thought and actions "here."

These special issues of Hypatia-originally one but now two-were envisioned as a forum that would encourage such border-crossing reflections on
philosophical concerns in particular. We also wanted to bring together writings
representing a diversity of approaches to such concerns. We sought essays that
would explore, for both philosophers and thinkers in other disciplines, the
extent to which feminist philosophy must and does draw on the texts, data,
and concerns of work in other disciplines, responding to the challenges these
pose and the illuminations they provide. The situation is similar in the history

of mainstream Western philosophy, in which influential new directions have


developed through borrowings and interchanges with the natural and social
sciences; to take recent examples, with projects in medical sciences, psychology, linguistics, and artificial intelligence. At the same time, we wanted to
show how feminist work in other disciplines both draws on and produces
philosophy: feminist philosophy is done in many disciplines these days. The
authors of the these essays are located in political science, social geography,
economics, and psychology, as well as in philosophy departments. Those in
philosophy departments bring to their analyses the strengths of diverse traditions in the discipline.
We hope that the issues raised in these papers will provide resources for more
complex and fruitful thinking within feminist philosophy at all the sites and
in all the forms in which it is engaged. We hope, too, that these issues will
challenge readers to reflect on how changes in social relations always generate

the need for revision in philosophic frameworks. As the "Others" of


modernity's ideal humans-such as women, and peoples of non-European
races and cultures-increasingly are recognized as fully human, we should

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Introduction

expect transformations in the fundamental landscapes of Western metaphys-

ics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and even philosophies of science. These essays collectively emphasize the degree to which the landscape
of contemporary philosophy is being enriched and transformed by postcolonial
and multicultural feminist engagements with issues that are both intellectually
and practically urgent.

The essays in this first issue by Alison Jaggar, Susan Okin, Ofelia Schutte,
Lorraine Code, and Uma Narayan are later versions of papers initially pre-

sented at an invited symposium on "Cultural Relativism and Global


Feminism" at the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division
meeting in San Francisco in March 1997. The session was organized and
chaired by Professor Deen Chaterjee and cosponsored by the APA Committee
on the Status of Women and the APA Committee on International Coopera-

tion. In "Globalizing Feminist Ethics," Alison Jaggar draws on both the


dialogical tradition in Western moral philosophy and the discursive practices

of feminist activist communities to develop an account of practical moral


reason that is respectful of cultural difference. Jaggar explores the possibility

that a feminist conception of moral discourse might at times justify the


exclusion of some people from particular dialogues without running counter to

the ideal of free and open discussion. She provides a detailed account of the
ways "closed communities" have been, and continue to be, epistemologically
and politically indispensable even while they have their moral and epistemological dangers.

Jaggar examines the possibility of global feminist dialogue, especially


between Western feminist communities and communities in the Third World

that are struggling to advance women's interests, and engages the difficult

question of who may participate in such discourse. She cautions against


assuming that there is a single or monolithic global feminist community, and
urges that we recognize such a community to consist of multiple and overlapping discursive networks, a community-in-the-making that is constantly being

reimagined. Jaggar points to a number of ways in which exchanges between


such feminist discourse communities across the world can be the sites of

important critical perspectives on ongoing economic, political, social, and


environmental issues that are crucial to feminist agendas both within and
across national contexts.

Susan Okin's essay, "Feminism, Women's Human Rights, and Cultural


Differences," focuses on the real world successes of one transnational feminist

discourse community-that of activists and thinkers engaged in making international and national human rights agendas responsive to the predicaments
and interests of women. Okin points to some interesting tensions between the

universalizing rhetoric that has been part of the successful development of


feminist human rights activism and certain Western feminist critiques of
essentialist overgeneralizations that have been hesitant or ambivalent about

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Hypatia

the deployment of universalizing notions. Okin argues that such feminist


human rights agendas have challenged the conventional notion of human
rights formulated by Locke and, more recently, by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These agendas also challenge the presumed immunity

of family and religious practices from human rights considerations. Okin's

analysis in many ways bears out Jaggar's thesis about the importance of
multiple and overlapping feminist discourse communities as sites of critical
political challenges to the national and international status quo.
Ofelia Schutte's essay, "Cultural Alterity: Cross-Cultural Communication
and Feminist Thought in North-South Contexts," explores another set of
issues that pertain to conversations between differently located feminists,
using a phenomenological-existential and poststructural concept of alterity to
think about issues of cross-cultural communication. Underscoring the need to
develop a model to understand subaltern cultural differences, Schutte analyzes
the locations of those who are constructed as the "culturally different Other."

Schutte cautions that the possibility of perfect translations should not be


assumed in communications between culturally differentiated subjects, suggesting that there will always be an important residue of meaning that does not

get across and that constitutes an element of cross-cultural incommensurability. Drawing on Anzalduia's figure of the multi-hyphenated mestiza self and
Kristeva's figure of the stranger within, Schutte argues for a feminist notion of

difference that facilitates the recognition of alterity both within and outside

the self. She enlists personal experience to delineate the construction and
implications of a culturally different Latina identity in Anglo-American contexts. Schutte uses her exploration of cultural alterity to caution Western

feminism against making an "Other" of women whose path to emancipation


it fails to understand or recognize, and argues for a postcolonial feminism that

pays serious attention to the experience of Western colonialism and its ongoing contemporary effects.

In "How to Think Globally," Lorraine Code engages concerns about how


transnational feminist agendas are to deal with issues of difference, including

cultural difference. Code articulates her own temptation to relativism, provoked by Western assumptions about "having the one true story." At the same
time, she acknowledges that situations such as the treatment of women by the

fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan pose severe test cases for such temptations to relativism. Code analyzes a variety of strategies employed by Chandra

Mohanty's analysis of women in various sites in the global economy in order

to explore avenues of analysis that might enable feminists to negotiate the


conundrums that seem to result from difficult choices between universalism
and relativism. She also reflects on how her location as Canadian might filter
her feminist perspectives on issues of cultural difference and on transnational

feminist cooperation.

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Introduction

The issues of cultural difference that are the core concerns of the essays by

Schutte and Code resurface in Uma Narayan's essay, "Essence of Culture and
A Sense of History." Narayan points to the ways in which attempts to avoid
gender essentialism by taking into account cultural differences among women
sometimes lead to culturally essentialist pictures of particular Third World
cultures and of their contrasts to Western culture. Narayan analyzes the
common characteristics of essentialist pictures of culture and proposes a number of strategies that Third World feminists may find useful in challenging the

culturally essentialist agendas of Third World fundamentalists. While


acknowledging the salience of Schutte's point that feminists need to deal with

cultural alterity, Narayan insists that this be done in a manner that does not
replicate imaginary colonialist-essentialist understandings of the differences

between Western and Third World cultures. Narayan cautions that forms of
cultural relativism buy into essentialist notions of cultural differences and pose

dangers to feminist agendas as significant as those posed by relativism.


Multicultural and postcolonial feminist writings often do not look much like

contemporary philosophic work in either their styles or their concerns. Nev-

ertheless, many of these writings have contributed important insights and


analyses to feminist philosophy. We asked several authors briefly to review for

the diverse Hypatia readership what is especially relevant for philosophy in


several such recent bodies of work. In this issue, Andrea Nye takes a fresh look

at some influential writings from the 1980s by Trinh Minh-ha, Patricia Hill
Collins, Gloria Anzaldua, Maria Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman, and Regina
Harrison. While many feminist philosophers have already been using the
insights of such writings to transform the categories and assumptions that
shape their ethics, epistemology, or concept of the self, the easier and more
prevalent practice is simply to mention such works in a footnote without
taking the important step of using them to rethink the kinds of projects we
learned and are still encouraged to think of as uniquely philosophic. Nye's
reflection on these works illustrates how, in periods of intellectual change, it is

on "the cusp of a redefinition of 'love of knowledge' " that new forms of


thought are positioned.
The notion of experience has played a central role in numerous philosophic
texts. Shari Stone-Mediatore uses the work of Chandra Mohanty, as well as of

Gloria Anzalduia and Samuel Delany, to explore possibilities for a robust and

philosophically useful notion of experience that can avoid the troubles


encountered by both empiricist and poststructuralist approaches. Along the
way, she identifies why it is that narratives are so crucial for revealing the

tensions between language and experience that often can lead to valuable
conceptual innovations.
In "Un Sitio y Una Lengua: Chicanas Theorize Feminisms," Aida Hurtado
provides a needed historical overview and synthesis of the various contributions of Chicana feminism, ranging from Chicana activism in the 1960s to

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Hypatia

contemporary theorizings by influential Chicana feminists. She challenges

non-Chicana scholars to engage not just with the few exemplary Chicana
texts, but also with the diverse concerns visible in a far broader range of these

writings. She ends with reflections on challenges to Chicana feminism in the


future. Along the way, Hurtado documents Chicana feminisms's use of differ-

ent methods of producing knowledge, and draws attention to the internal


variety within the Chicana communities of the United States, even as she

points to some overarching similarities in how sexism is experienced and


reproduced in these communities.
We hope you enjoy these debates and discussions as much as we have, and
that you will return to rejoin them in the Summer 1998 issue.

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