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Feminism and the Abyss of Freedomby Linda M. G. Zerilli
Synopses & Reviews
In contemporary feminist theory, the betterment of society and the problem of feminine subjectivity persistently appear and reappear as the site that grounds all discussion on feminism. In Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom, Linda M. G. Zerilli argues that the persistence of this social- and subject-centered frame severely limits feminists capacity to think imaginatively about the central problem of feminist theory and practice: a politics concerned with freedom.
Offering both a discussion of feminism in its postmodern context and a critique of contemporary theory, Zerilli here challenges feminists to move away from a theory-based approach, which focuses on securing or contesting “women” as an analytic category of feminism, to one rooted in political action and judgment. She revisits the democratic problem of exclusion from participation in common affairs, and elaborates a freedom-centered feminism as the political practice of beginning anew, world-building, and judging.
In a series of deeply textured readings, Zerilli draws on the political thought of Hannah Arendt to articulate a nonsovereign conception of political freedom and to explore a variety of feminist understandings of freedom in the twentieth century, including ones proposed by Judith Butler, Monique Wittig, and the Milan Womens Bookstore Collective. In so doing, Zerilli hopes to retrieve what Arendt called feminisms lost treasure: the original and radical claim to political freedom.
In Freedom Beyond Sovereignty, Sharon R. Krause challenges the widely held assumption that human agency is a kind of personal sovereignty, the capacity for self-determination or control over ones action. She argues that this conception misses an essential social dimension of individual agency, to be able to have an impact on the world that one can recognize as ones own. Agency is more than an exclusively internal capacity of a person—what Arendt and others have called willing—it also intimately involves how our actions are viewed and responded to by those around us. Krause contends that we must move beyond the myth of sovereignty if we are to understand the failed freedom of those who are marginalized by inequality or discrimination and grasp the scope of our own responsibility for social change. A fundamental reconstruction of liberal individualism, Freedom Beyond Sovereignty enables us to see human action, personal responsibility, and the meaning of liberty in a totally new light.
What does it mean to be free? We invoke the word frequently, yet the freedom of countless Americans is compromised by social inequalities that systematically undercut what they are able to do and to become. If we are to remedy these failures of freedom, we must move beyond the common assumption, prevalent in political theory and American public life, that individual agency is best conceived as a kind of personal sovereignty, or as self-determination or control over ones actions.
In Freedom Beyond Sovereignty, Sharon R. Krause shows that individual agency is best conceived as a non-sovereign experience because our ability to act and affect the world depends on how other people interpret and respond to what we do. The intersubjective character of agency makes it vulnerable to the effects of social inequality, but it is never in a strict sense socially determined. The agency of the oppressed sometimes surprises us with its vitality. Only by understanding the deep dynamics of agency as simultaneously non-sovereign and robust can we remediate the failed freedom of those on the losing end of persistent inequalities and grasp the scope of our own responsibility for social change. Freedom Beyond Sovereignty brings the experiences of the oppressed to the center of political theory and the study of freedom. It fundamentally reconstructs liberal individualism and enables us to see human action, personal responsibility, and the meaning of liberty in a totally new light.
About the Author
Linda M. G. Zerilli is professor of political science at Northwestern University. She is the author of Signifying Woman: Culture and Chaos in Rousseau, Burke, and Mill.
Table of Contents
Why Feminism and Freedom Both Begin with the Letter F
Freedom as a Social Question
Freedom as a Subject Question
Freedom as a World Question
Feminism's "Lost Treasure"
Feminists Know Not What They Do: Judith Butler's Gender Trouble
and the Limits of Epistemology
Theory—The Craving for Generality?
A Wittgensteinian Reading of the Feminist Foundations Debate
Doing Gender, Following a Rule
Radical Imagination and Figures of the Newly Thinkable
Toward a Freedom-Centered Feminist Theory
Feminists Are Beginners: Monique Wittig's Les guérillères
and the "Problem of the New"
The Limits of Doubt
Language as a "War Machine"
No-More and Not-Yet
Elles—A Fantastic Universal
Feminists Make Promises: The Milan Collective's Sexual Difference
and the Project of World-Building
Tearing Up the Social Contract
The Desire for Reparation
The Problem with Equality
A Political Practice of Sexual Difference
Feminists Make Judgments: Hannah Arendt's Lectures on Kant's
Political Philosophy and the Affirmation of Freedom
Judgment and the "Problem of the New"
The Old Problem of Objectivity
Judging without a Concept
One Concept of Validity
A Political Concept of Validity
From World-Disclosure to World-Opening
"Being and thinking in my own identity where actually I am not"
Imagination and Freedom
Sensus Communis and the Practice of Freedom
Reframing the Freedom Question in Feminism
Feminism's Paradox of Founding
What a Political Claim Is
Feminism Is a World-Building Practice
Recovering Feminism's "Lost Treasure"
What Our Readers Are Saying
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