american feminist literature, american literature, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, humanism, lgbtq, philosophy, politics, science and technology, sex reassignment, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Judith Butler, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), 621-636.

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(photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler)

Bodies and their artistic nature of gender, sex identity and expression is a complicated notion. In the essay entitled “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” Judith Butler discusses these complications in discussing the social construction of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler uses a Foucauldian framework to talk about body politics and the “regulatory regime” of medicine on bodies (621). Butler does this by specifically focusing on one individual in particular identified as “the case of Joan/John” (625).

The case of Joan/John is not a uncommon story but is an example of the ways in which the medical establishment constructs bodies that are “viable” and are coherent for the nation-state. In short the case of Joan/Joan is a story of an infant that goes through a botched circumcision, in which the doctor convinces the parents it will be better for the child to grow up with no penis and assume the identity of a female then to grow up with a deformed penis (622). The narrative gets more complicated as Joan/John grows up and ends up identifying more as a male than his produced female more identity (623). Through this case study, Butler identifies the debate between social and biological arguments for sex/gender (623) More important, this essay offers a theoretical framework for discussing the forced construction of gender on individuals and their bodies. Butler’s thesis states, “in recounting this story and its appropriation for the purposes of gender theory.…I hope to underscore here is the disciplinary framework in which Joan/ John develops a discourse of self-reporting and self-understanding…by which his own humanness is both questioned and asserted” (628-629).

Lasting thoughts from this piece are productive invitations to discuss the body and nation. Asking academics and intellects alike the question of what ultimately constitutes humanness?  Butler asserts there is  major “limits to the discourse of intelligibility [coherent/identification/taxonomy]” (635). If that is so, Butler’s contributions challenge the constructed categories of the nation-state and binary body politics. This essay highlights the nation-states perceived need for these categories to propel nationalism and its citizenship. I would recommend this essay to academics, intellectuals, and social activists. This is a perfect essay to sit down and discuss with like-minded thinkers. I guarantee you will engage in an exciting and stimulating conversation reading this and discuss it with peers or colleagues! 

10/10

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feminist studies, feminist theory, philosophy, political theory

Essay Review: Louis Althusser, “Ideology and The Ideological State Apparatus,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971) 127-186.

How a nation-state is formed, sustains and then is able to acquires a legacy of nationalism is the driving question of theorist Lois Althusser. The author discusses in the selected pages entitled, “Ideology and The Ideological State Apparatus,” inner workings of institutions that manifest nationalism. This mode of thought engenders a Marxist theoretical lens, which produces an inquiry of nationalism, bodies, and production. Althusser is trying to explain the power of  idealogical forces in the history of capitalism, the infrastructure and superstructure; which he discusses through the notion of ideology and its apparatuses. Thus, Althusser’s “basic thesis” states, that in order to discuss the intricacies of power and production we must start “from the point of view of reproduction” (138). Although Althusser goes on to have a series of thesis[ “thesis 1: ideology” is an “illusion/allusion”…. “thesis 2: “ideoldogy has a material existence” ] the “basic thesis” and his central thesis will be discussed here (162 &165). The main entry points into his discussion of ideology is within the state. Althusser asserts, “the definition of the State as a class State, existing in the repressive State apparatus [such as: legal practice, police, courts, prisons, army, and gov.] casts a brilliant light on all the facts observable in the various orders of repression” (137 &139).

The major offering Althusser provides academics is his theoretical framework in identifying as two major societal systems. The first is the Ideological State Apparatus [ISA] such as: church, school, family, legal, political, trade union, press/radio/T.V., arts and sports (143). The second apparatus is defined as the Repressive State Apparatus [RSA] such as: police, jail, prisons, doctors, and politics— “which function by violence” (143).

Moreover, Althusser is quite helpful in understudying the inner or subversive vs. overt workings of state making and nationalism. Althusser offers an explanation in how an “independent” subjects become a subject of the state. Although the theoretical offing is dense, it is useful in the history of the state and understanding where ideas come from that promote radical and passive notions of sacrifice to the state. It is also important in theorizing  reproduction and the meaning making of citizenship, gender, race, and class. An essential read for theorists, feminists, and the like.

feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, science and technology

Article Review: Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” in Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Feminist Inc., 1988), 575-599.

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(photo credits to link provided: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donna_Haraway)

From one of my all time favorite feminist theorists, Donna Haraway, discusses how the idea of the objective/subject is nothing more than an illusion. Donna Haraway discusses in her essay entitled, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives,” the ability to be completely biased and unattached from the subject is much more complicated than that. Haraway’s thesis states, “I want to argue for a doctrine and practice of objectivity that privileges contestation, deconstruction, passionate construction, webbed connections, and hope for transformation of systems of knowledge and ways of seeing” (584-585). Haraway’s thesis is defended by the use of re-defining individuals and their position. She goes on further to state, “where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard rational knowledge claims…the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring and structured body” (589). In other words, Haraway is arguing that the partial is more credible than the unattainable totalized explanation.

For example, Haraway calls attention to what she defines as “feminist objectivity…[which is] about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting subject and object” (583). This way of viewing narratives, especially historical narratives, suggests a new way of interacting with colonizer/colonized, slave/master, citizen/state, power/powerless etc . This way of reading or analysis blurs binaries and may suggest agency to subjects that changes the position of these actors.

The term situated knowledge is crucial in understanding what Haraway’s article. Situated knowledge can be understood as a relationship between the binary of colonized/colonizer, not as a top down dynamic (592). Instead it is a blurred, symbiotic, and complicated relationship.

This type of analysis adds to a new way in seeing object and subject relation; in the case of nation and its citizens complicates the historical narratives. It also pushes back at scientific and historical ways of othering and objectifying subjects. This is a helpful theoretical underpinning in academic discussions on how history is told as well as how the nation interacts with its citizens and vice versa. Haraway’s essay is also helpful in grappling with academic discussions on nation building, legacy of empire, and the paradox of contradiction in colonial histories. A new way of looking at the world and a new way at re-imagining the story– a must read!

10/10