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Friday, February 10, 2006

Deep Thoughts: Feminists and Globalization

The Feminist Desire for a Primordial Place, Or Why Feminist Philosophers Avoid the Issue of Globalization
By Jennifer Eagan (


This paper is a call for a philosophical feminist perspective that can enter into the developing conceptual and philosophical discourse on globalization. With only a few exceptions treated below, Western feminist philosophers are missing the big picture and letting others do the heavy lifting involved in generating theory that can help us address the problems of oppression, distributive justice, and insufficient democratic practices as they are unified under a system that can be named “globalization”. This glaring absence stands in stark contrast to the considerable amount of work on globalization done by feminist theorists from social scientific perspectives. If feminist philosophical discourse does not enter into the construction of globalization as a concept, then it cannot also inform action, and this silence may leave women marginalized from future discourse and praxis. This paper searches for a way to engage globalization on a theoretical level from a philosophical feminist standpoint, while holding out the continued possibility of feminist resistance to globalization processes.

In order to open up the discussion of a feminist philosophical treatment of globalization, I review some philosophical treatments of globalization that exemplify how it can be treated as a specifically philosophical issue and as a phenomenon that opens up traditional philosophical questions in new ways. Next, I explore some feminist treatments of global issues and multiculturalism which are important in many ways, but which fall short of a systematic philosophical treatment of globalization. Then, I trace the double movement of the exclusion of feminist philosophical treatments of globalization and speculate about its causes. I also examine the promise of feminist philosophy to address some of the more troubling aspects of globalization. Lastly, I evoke Luce Irigaray’s later work asserting a feminist cosmopolitanism and creating a bridge between Western and Eastern ways of thinking and being as one possible way to construct a feminist philosophical approach to globalization.

Philosophical Treatments of Globalization: An Overview

Philosophy has already contributed to the discourse on globalization, though not widely, and not without problems. Globalization is a tricky problem for philosophers to tangle with because it is a life-world problem as well as a worldview, and because it is ethically ambiguous. However, globalization is rich with philosophical problems, whether one approaches it as a concept or as a social reality. The following is a sample of works that tackle globalization as a philosophical problem from a mixture of diverse theoretical perspectives such as deconstruction, critical theory, and poststructuralism.

Philosophers disagree as to what this phenomenon of globalization is, or if it even exists. According to Derrida (2003), the whole concept of globalization, or mondialisation as he prefers, is inherently a contradiction. It both does and does not take place. The technological facts of globalization exist (such as instant communication), but the promise that these facts will bring about greater equality and democracy has not come to fruition and does not even seem to be headed in that direction. In this later sense, globalization does not exist (pp. 121-124).

Jorge J.E. Gracia (2002) defines globalization as an activity; “To globalize means to make global or affect the globe”. However, the globe remains in spite of us, so “this process must involve something else, and here two possibilities suggest themselves: some aspect of human experience and the human impact on the non human dimensions of the globe” (p. 125). He sees globalization as a long process, including colonialism and imperial expansion, however only now with technological advancement can globalization truly be global, though he describes this in local terms. “The world is becoming a barrio , because we know what is happening everywhere at all times, or at least we can find out” (p. 126). Seeing knowledge as power in Foucaudian terms, Gracia claims that this knowledge can be mobilized against or for the disenfranchised, and therefore globalization is a mixed bag of positive and the negative potential (p. 128).

According to Frederic Jameson (1998), globalization is a philosophical issue because it reflects a Hegelian dialectic between identity and difference (pp. 75-6). Globalization is a communicational force that reflects cultural diversity on one side and economic homogeneity on the other. The movement between these is such that, structured as a dialectic, each sphere has the potential to trade the characteristics of diversity and homogeneity; the economic sphere can be seen as diverse, and the cultural as homogenized. This is what Jameson claims is characteristic of the unfortunately postmodern nature of our current situation, the confusion of the cultural and economic (p. 60), though both have the potential to become increasingly diverse. Ultimately, he tends toward the view that due to asymmetries of power in both spheres, the cultural and the economic, homogenization seems likely to win out on both sides.

In contrast to Jameson’s account, Richard Rorty (1999) does not think that this dichotomy has much to offer to the real problems caused by globalization. From his pragmatic standpoint, Rorty sees difference as accomplishing a challenge to empty metaphysical notions, as in the table is not the same as the essence of the table. Rorty sees identity, as expressed in identity politics, as merely an extension of liberal politics extending to more and more groups, all seeking rights through this assertion of identity (pp. 234-5). According to Rorty, “…the central fact of globalization is that the economic situation of the citizens of a nation state has passed beyond the control of the laws of that state” (p. 233). This economic state of affairs will not be affected by rooms of intellectuals critiquing it, and he is likely right about this. The fact of increasing inequality is a prominent ethical concern. Though certainly not a pragmatist, Habermas (2003) likewise sees the problem of globalization as the heightening of inequality due to the expansion of markets, splitting the world into winners and losers (pp. 32-33). He would like to see global institutions strengthened and legitimized by public consent and discourse.

The inherent negatives associated with globalization are this homogeneity and the lack of democratic institutions to stem its tide. The force and tendency of globalization to spread as homogenization can be seen in Benjamin Barber’s concept of McWorld (1995), which:
paints that future in shimmering pastels, a busy portrait of onrushing economic, technological, and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity that mesmerize peoples everywhere with fast music, fast computers, and fast food ñ MTV, Macintosh, and McDonaldís ñ pressing nations into one homogenous global theme park, one McWorld tied together by communications, information, entertainment, and commerce (p. 4).

Barber contrasts the two competing conceptual frameworks governing the development of globalization. These are McWorld (the mostly American commercial structure that appeals to our baser cultural and economic instincts) and Jihad (fundamentalism in all of its guises that appeals to our baser political and spiritual instincts). The problem is that neither framework leaves room for democratic values and structures either at the regional or global level. Whichever framework wins out, we are left with economically brutal corporate oligarchies or localized totalitarian regimes. Barber’s work represents how the Frankfurt School would approach globalization if Horkheimer and Adorno were still alive.

Drawing together the philosophies of Foucault, Deleuze and Guatarri, and Marx, among others, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2003) have created probably the most important philosophical (and interdisciplinary) work on globalization in their work Empire . They present the concept of Empire in contrast to more typical notions of globalization as a transcendent unifying world system or plan. Empire would include the hosts of processes that we tend to associate with globalization, but Empire is neither random nor systematic, but juridical and diffuse (p. 3). For example, globalization is manifested, controlled, and fueled by the juridical structures of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, as well as the impulse to develop liberal transnational democracies. But, these organizations and movements taken together certainly do not form a univocal world system with a singular purpose. Therefore, Hardt and Negri consistently refer to “processes of globalization” rather than “globalization” in the singular. “Globalization, of course, is not one thing, and the multiple processes that we recognize as globalization are not unified or univocal” (p. xv). Empire is so important because it shows how extensively these processes of globalization can be treated conceptually, as well as showing how important exploring and using these ideas is for liberatory politics.

As evidenced by this sampling of philosophical reflection on globalization, one can see how globalization as a concept and as a social fact evokes a whole host of philosophical issues: the nature of definition, identity and difference, the role of philosophy in social life, distributive justice, the aesthetics of culture, ontology, and philosophy of the subject and history. This is a rich field for conceptual thinking. Yet, I now ask, here are the feminist philosophers? Where is the feminist equivalent of Empire ?

Some Notable (But Incomplete) Exceptions

There are some notable exceptions to the general claim that feminist philosophers have not sufficiently engaged with globalization and global issues. For example, Hypatia , the premier journal of feminist philosophy, published two issues entitled “Border Crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Challenges to Philosophy” in the Spring and Summer editions of 1998. However, none of the essays included in these two editions focuses on globalization in any detail. Most of the essays grapple with grass-roots feminism arising in developing nations, cross-cultural communication, and Western privilege; all important issues, but only tangentially related to globalization.

Still, there are a few feminist philosophers who delve into global issues in their philosophical work, notably Ofelia Schutte, Iris Marion Young, Martha Nussbaum, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Ofelia Schutte is developing a “postcolonial feminist ethical perspective” from her engagement in Latin American development and feminism, and argues that postmodern critiques of representation, identity, power, and privilege can serve as useful tools to critique globalization processes (2002, pp. 187 and 196). Iris Marion Young (2000) writes about U.N. reform and how to manage global political conflicts in such a way as to balance competing concerns of justice, such as self-determination and international obligations that cross borders. These are promising feminist philosophical treatments of globalization and of global issues. However, a specific, sustained treatment of globalization written from a feminist philosophical perspective is still missing.

Next, I examine two prominent feminist philosophers; both are intimately engaged with global women’s issues, but fail to sufficiently address globalization as a primary source of these issues. The perspectives of Nussbaum and Spivak illustrate a tension in political philosophy more generally, the continuation of a traditional liberal approach to political problems versus a postmodern questioning of the traditional liberal approach as homogenizing and privileging of Western perspectives.

Martha Nussbaum’s work explores how to establish liberal rights for human beings, especially women, through Amartya Sen’s notion of human capabilities, which include the basic requirements and activities necessary for human life and ways of functioning that human beings need to participate in. Hers is a normative approach to the problems of women in developing countries and of Western women who are steeped in similar disadvantages. She makes the argument that these capacities and the possibility of their development are what make for a “good life”, and creates some specific policy recommendations based on this theory and backed by social scientific research. Her interest in this question of the good life stems from her considerable scholarship in the area of Ancient Greek philosophy. Nussbaum posits a universal account of the meaning of human life, common to all human beings, but one that is also non-realist. This means that she is not asserting that human beings are a part of the world in a fixed and essential way, but we infer these capabilities or necessities for a good human life from the observation of and participation in real human experience (1995, pp. 67-70).

Nussbaum’s work is extremely important in feminist political theory and philosophy because her work truly unites theory with praxis. This is evidenced by her engagement with the United Nations, her empirical observation of developing women’s conditions, and her use of social scientific research in the service of relating theory to policy making. However, she does not address globalization as a primary cause of the suffering of the developing women that she seeks to defend. Though Nussbaum (2000) critiques global capitalism for diminishing the idea of citizenship (p. 32) and acknowledges that her capabilities approach is a much needed ethical counter-balance to the destructive effects of globalization, she lauds nation states and traditional political structures as the source of the solution to these effects (p. 105). In addition to this de-emphasis of globalization as an important force that exceeds simple economics, Nussbaum defends a traditional liberal feminist point of view that may be ill equipped to deal with what may be a new global formation. She claims that, “[t]his international focus will not require feminist political philosophy to turn away from its traditional themes”, but new issues, not approaches, will need to be added to the feminist political philosopher’s repertoire (p. 7). But, if globalization is characterized by the weakening of nation states and political control, as Rorty and Habermas suggest, then Nussbaum’s approach will not be effective. Many feminists, especially feminist theorists from the developing world, would claim that Nussbaum’s approach amounts to an imposition of dated Western ideas on contemporary non-Western women’s problems.

One such theorist who might critique Nussbaum is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who explores the limits of what she calls “post-colonial reason” and warns against the imposition of Western ways of seeing on developing world texts and cultures. Throughout her work, Spivak is concerned about the possibility of letting natives speak and be heard without having their voices co-opted by dominant Western voices. However, she is also cognizant of the impossibility of an authentic native voice unmediated by dominant forms of discourse. Spivak, as a bi-cultural theorist, sees her role as mediating exchanges between intellectuals and the oppressed that do not erase the latter. Spivak (1999) is critical of even counter-hegemonic philosophers who collapse the experience of oppressed people into one and fail to reflect on the fact that they, as Western intellects, are determining that experience through their own discourse. “Neither Deleuze or Foucault seems aware that the intellectual within globalizing capital, brandishing concrete experience, can help consolidate the international division of labor by making one model of ‘concrete experience’ the model. We are witnessing this within our discipline daily as we see the postcolonial migrant become the norm, thus occluding the native once again” (pp. 255-6). Even in texts that Spivak finds promising, the native voice disappears when interpreted through the lens of the Western theorist by being transformed into the migrant, the native dragged into Western territory. Similarly, in her analysis of French feminist philosophy, Spivak (1987) articulates a critique that warns Western feminist writers that they often misread “other” women in their attempt to speak to and for them, incorporate them in the category of “women”, and elevate them to the assumed privileged status of Western women. This desire leads feminist philosophers to either cover over the genuine difference between Western and Third World women (Spivak’s term) or to romanticize non-Western cultures as exotically unique, natural, or matrilineal. In either case, the native voice is lost.

Spivak briefly discusses global economic structures in her primary work A Critique of Postcolonial Reason , and the collusion of intellectuals in reinforcing these structures. However, her body of work focuses primarily on philosophical, literary, and cultural modes of imperialism, though certainly she recognizes that these are not exclusive of economic factors. Spivak’s work does not include a sustained treatment of globalization, but provides feminist theorists with some very useful notions of voice and instructs us on how voices get displaced by the very people who are trying to give voice to the marginalized. As feminist philosophers enter into the construction of a feminist philosophical approach to globalization, we might want to consider Spivak’s advice in constructing a theory that can not only address global issues, but that can be heard globally. She warns Western theorists to not just have the conversation about global issues among ourselves. “There is an impulse among literary critics and other kinds of intellectuals to save the masses, speak for the masses, describe the masses. On the other hand, how about attempting to speak in such a way that the masses will not regard as bullshit” (1990, p. 56).

In my search for feminist philosophical work on globalization, I found the works cited above useful, but I failed to find a sustained conceptual treatment of globalization. Given the recent proliferation of philosophical work on globalization by male philosophers, the impact of globalization processes on women worldwide, and the rich possibilities for new thinking that globalization provides, I am curious as to why. The following is a speculative exploration on the conspicuous absence of feminist philosophical treatments of globalization.

The Double Movement of Marginalization in Feminist Philosophy on Globalization

Now that I have reviewed philosophical treatments of globalization and noted the absence of specially feminist philosophical treatments of globalization, I now propose an explanation for this absence. In this section, I examine Hardt and Negri’s Empire , as a work that largely ignores feminist theory, but which critiques our attention on local struggles to the detriment of seeing global connections. Their argument illuminates the silence of feminist philosophers. I argue that feminist philosophy’s lack of attention to global connections stemming from local issues is two-fold. Feminist philosophy has been historically exclusionary to new topics and interlocutors, and feminist philosophy has traditionally focused on the natural, the immediate, and the immanent.

Not all of the blame for the exclusion of a feminist perspective on philosophical treatments of globalization should be placed onto feminist philosophers themselves. The texts cited above by male philosophers do not evoke feminism in their analysis or recognize the potential contributions of feminist theory as a conceptual tool for dealing with the problems entailed in globalization. As a case in point, the epic tome Empire (2000), which impressively seems to talk about nearly everything, has only one reference in its index to “feminist movements”. Here, feminism is mentioned in passing among a list of sixties liberation movements. Newt Gingrich and Bill Gates are also indexed with one reference each. The word “women” is not indexed at all. Though there are a few references, mostly in footnotes, to feminist philosophers’ discussions of race, sexuality and the posthuman subject, this huge and well-researched book doesn’t contain a sustained discussion of feminism as a movement or of feminist conceptual frameworks. For a such a monumental work that claims to seek a new decentered social body and alternative political subject that can challenge this powerful form of sovereignty, this absence is surprising. Feminist philosophy, which has tackled the system of patriarchy both as discourse and social reality so effectively, would be a natural fit for such a project.

Despite this conspicuous absence of feminism in Empire , Hardt and Negri give us some clue as to why exploring globalization is so important both as a philosophical issue and for political action, as well as providing some insight as to why feminist philosophy has failed to address globalization sufficiently. Hardt and Negri argue that resistance to globalization and its particular effects must itself be global in order to create any impact. Within the world structured by Empire, local struggles immediately strike a global cord, though the complex connection between the local and the global are difficult to articulate (p. 54-55). Nonetheless, failing to acknowledge that there is a connection is where Hardt and Negri see the traditional left failing, and I argue that philosophical feminism fails in the same way. Hardt and Negri claim that the traditional left establishes a false dichotomy between the local and the global, failing to see that there is no outside to the global presence of Empire. The traditional left also fails to see how the local feeds the global; in some instances, local resistances that do not acknowledge how they are situated globally, and actually feed the repressive tendency of Empire. Empire, and the processes of globalization within it, incorporates more potential for broader change because it tends itself to globalize, but leftist politics needs to make this global connection to local issues explicit in order to affect change. Any resistance to Empire will take place within Empire, which has destabilized traditional forms of oppression, and therefore contains the condition for the possibility for liberation (p. 52). But in order for this liberation to be realized, Hardt and Negri state that we must attack the whole simultaneously (p. 59). “Today’s celebration of the local can be regressive and even fascistic when they oppose circulations and mixture, and thus reinforce the walls of nation, ethnicity, race, people, and the like” (p. 362).

Given globalization’s overriding importance, why have women tended to turn away from globalization as a philosophical issue? Again, there are feminist thinkers tackling all sorts of issues that are relevant globally particularly in other fields, but feminist philosophers, by and large, have turned away from this timely subject. I offer a few suggestions as to why this is the case and explore one in detail. Perhaps feminist philosophers are mute as a result of the vastness of the issue; it is so perplexing and complex that we cannot even comment upon it. This seems implausible. Or, some Western feminist philosophers tend to act locally and think locally, stemming from the notion that “the personal is political”; some feminists like to keep their action and theory close to home and on topics on which they have first hand knowledge. After all, feminists are rightly aware that the work in terms of distributive justice and democratic inclusiveness is not completed in our own backyard, so why not clean our own house first? Most feminist philosophers are wary of the modernist, and perhaps masculine, tendency to universalize and totalize the world, and globalization is another such totalizing concept. These explanations are all possibilities, but I don’t think that any of these are the primary cause.

I argue that the primary cause of feminist philosophers turning away from conceptual treatments of globalization is two-fold. First, for a movement of liberation, historically feminist thought and movement has been exclusionary and reticent to include not only new topics for discussion, but also new kinds of women to enter into these discussions. This exclusionary tendency is by no means unique to feminism as a branch of philosophy, but some feminist thinkers may be reluctant to enter new territory with new interlocutors. This tendency of feminist philosophy has been well documented, particularly by African American women writers such as bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins, so I will not revisit this issue here. I will explore the other aspect of why feminist philosophers have been reluctant to tackle this issue. Many feminist philosophers have a tendency to desire appeals to the natural, the immanent, and the immediate. Feminist philosophers (and I include myself in this category) have a taste for immanence, the local, and the particular that keeps many of us away from playing with big, universal concepts. We would like to retreat to what we know and what is familiar. Though such particularized work is valuable, this tendency may not be strictly a matter of taste, but it may also be a product of social construction or coercion. And worse, as Hardt and Negri suggest, this localized focus may reduce the power of feminist philosophy to affect social change, undermining the very purpose of much feminist philosophical works. Our historical association with immanence makes us more comfortable with immanence, but also limits the scope of the discourse we produce as a group. As Simone deBeauvoir charged in her 1966 lecture “Women and Creativity”, women lack greatness in creative endeavors as a result of being shut out of the realm of artistic production, and women continue to be left out as a result of not fighting their way into that realm. Similarly, feminist philosophers may be afraid of their freedom to seize and change the world by fighting our way into this discourse on globalization. When some theorists do resist such social construction and attempt to change the world through ideas, they look to an alleged primordial past, a natural state that women are supposed to find their way back to, rather than take responsibility for what they will become and do in the face of the present.

A Retreat to Nature and Immanence

To illustrate this desire for a return to a primordial past and its ultimate failure, I offer a fictional depiction of such a failure. In her 1972 novel Surfacing , Margaret Atwood creates a nameless female character who seeks to recover a natural place that perhaps never existed. She returns to the Canadian wilderness of her childhood and seeks an experience where she can become a part of nature and a defender of nature against what she perceives as an American hoard of developers, hunters, and interlopers. This desire for naturalness comes about as an eventual result of her viewing herself in light of her “friend” Anna, who serves as the anti-natural, the result of the male gaze and male desire. When Anna is hiking in the woods, the nameless woman describes her in this way,
Rump on a packsack, harem cushion, pink on the cheeks and black discreetly around the eyes, as red as blood as black as ebony, a seamed and folded imitation of a magazine picture that is itself an imitation, the original nowhere, hairless lobed angel in the same heaven where God is a circle, captive princess in someoneís head (p. 197).

The nameless woman leaves her friends and retreats into the forest to create a natural existence, a primordial place, though she finds that she must surface and come back to the world as it is. She cannot sustain this impossible desire to be a part of nature, alone, prior to language. The state of nature turns out to be a fantasy. In this state that she attempts to maintain, she tries to elude her companions and the developers who want to dismantle her father’s cabin. She becomes paranoid, delusional, convinced that she is becoming an animal and that she is visited by spirits. After she surfaces from this state, she realizes what will happen now when she is found.
This is the real danger now, the hospital or the zoo, where we are put, species and individual, when we can no longer cope. They would never believe itís only natural woman, state of nature, they think of that tanned body on a beach with washed hair waving like scarves; not this, face dirt-caked and streaked, skin grimed and scabby, hair like a frayed bathmat stuck with leaves and twigs. A new kind of centerfold (p. 228).

In spite of Atwood’s character’s recreation of herself as a primordial woman, she fails in her quest to save her father’s cabin because she fails to realize that she lives in the present. Eventually, she surfaces as herself, a modern woman shaped by contemporary forces, dealing with reality directly.

There is a lot at stake in feminist theory and praxis in terms of recreating what a woman is. Many feminists look to a primordial past to discover a picture of what a natural woman would be, if patriarchy had never happened. However, just like the magazine centerfold, this natural woman also has no original. Such a woman has never existed and even is she did she is lost to us now. Judith Butler (1990) explains that this would be a naïve reading of gender as a natural state tied to our anatomy and not constructed out of an opposition to the “other” sex (pp. 21-22). This search for an originary experience and primordial place serves as a thought experiment to create new possibilities, though nothing certain, firm, or original can be recovered. If such an original could be claimed, it would have a homogenizing effect on women’s identity. This homogenizing effect is not likely to be better than that of any other ideology.

However, through this task of thinking about and recreating female identities, Western feminism has already engaged in some of the necessary groundwork for a critique of the movement of globalization, especially in terms of seeing how women have been constructed and homogenized by a variety of cultural forces. If the negative side of globalization is precisely the homogenizing effect of culture, feminist philosophy is well versed in this. Judith Butler’s work seems particularly relevant in this context. She shows how in many ways “culture is destiny” in terms of our construction of gender identities, however she also carves out some paths of resistance to such culturally determined identities. This critique could be useful for resisting Western imperial structures of identity, similarly underdetermined by culture. Also, feminist philosophy has tackled what Sandra Bartky (1998) calls the “beauty industrial complex” of commercial forces that wed women to the market through the practice of thinking that they and their bodies are deficient. This effect of commercial culture has been well covered by feminist philosophy, and could be useful in seeing the compulsory nature of participation in Western culture and its effects in developing and resisting communities. In light of such examinations of culture, identity, and market forces, it seems that feminism is well poised to enter into the conceptual work on the nature and problems of globalization.

Irigarayís Cosmopolitanism

One such example of how feminist philosophers can enter into such conceptual work can be found in the philosophy of Luce Irigaray. In Irigaray’s more recent work on politics Democracy Begins Between Two (2000), she manages to combine her desire for a particular instantiation of gendered rights with a call for women to enter into civil and cosmopolitan society (pp. 42-46). Until then, women will be trapped in a state of nature, but this state of nature is not natural. The abstract systems of limited rights and capitalism limit woman to nature, even though woman ostensibly is a full citizen. As Irigaray claims that women must have individual sovereignty first before becoming a full citizen. The unnatural state of nature that falls short of civil maturity is every bit as contrived as the ideological national and global scenes that ensnare the subjects within them. Luce Irigaray shares the concern that people will retreat into the private and individual out of anxiety, particularly within the context of the formation of the European Union. She thinks that the reticence that some have to joining the EU has to do with a fear of dissolving not only national, but personal identity. Instead of retreating to “tribal” identities based on race, religion, and nationality, Irigaray argues that we need to construct a way toward a civil community that respects and fosters difference if we are to realize our goal of peaceful coexistence and of sustaining human life on the planet.

Irigaray describes our current state of being divided beyond the ability to communicate along lines of sex, race, generation, etc. itself as a state of nature (p. 54). This emergence of such a state of nature has come about through a misguided division between natural law (the law of the family, reproduction, and sustaining life) and civil law (the law which protects property rights) (p. 56). The economic order created by civil law has put us into a Hobbesian state of nature, though of course, this state is not natural since it has emerged out of human history and choices. As Irigaray writes, “A culture of life does not, in fact, exist. A culture of the body, a culture of natural sensibility, a culture of ourselves as living beings, is still lacking” (p. 57). This passage may seem to be advocating a return to a primordial state, one that takes the natural existence of the body, reproduction, and the family as its foundation. However, Irigaray is denying that we know what the natural is or could be. We are in a Hobbesian state of nature that is not natural, and any other state of nature that we may create will not be natural either. Irigaray is using the notion of life as a categorical good and a field of possibility, not as an appeal to a natural state that we could recover.

Following Irigaray, I argue that feminists should not enmesh their political action within a construct that excludes them from the broader issues of justice, including global ones. I would like for feminist philosophical discourse to develop a cosmopolitan viewpoint. What would a feminist cosmopolitanism look like? I suggest that it would posit a realm where claims of rights and justice are universalized, but not in such a way that reduces individual identity to a single static framework. I think that Irigaray gives us some indication of the problem of homogenizing the identities of men and women either under the banner of human or as two separate entities utterly foreign to one another. In either case, men and women and humans of all sorts are limited in their personal and civil possibilities. A feminist cosmopolitanism would also see the ways that claims of justice on different levels are paradoxically the same and different. For example, a woman who personally experiences sexual violence in the US and seeks redress through the courts could see her experience as both the same and different from a woman’s experience of sexual violence in a country where such redress is impossible. A feminist cosmopolitanism would see justice as an interpersonal, national, and global concern.

Along her way to this feminist cosmopolitan perspective, Irigaray explores Eastern philosophy in another work Between East and West (2002). Here, she advocates something similar to Hardt’s and Negri’s notion of miscegenation in order to challenge ones own perspective; the purpose of this “mixing”, as she calls it, would be to proliferate difference rather than to enforce homogeneity (pp. 131-145). Through her participation in Eastern practices and perspectives, Irigaray develops another way to critique “the waywardness of Western consciousness”, which is a consistent theme in her work. This Western consciousness emphasizes individualism, conflict, and the degradation of the earth (p. 94). The negative effects of globalization are a consequence of this consciousness, though it has the potential to urge us to create the world differently. “In this global coexistence, we are discovering a particularly evident fact: the conception of our traditional culture needs to be rethought” (p.139). Though Irigaray may be charged with appealing to the natural, she is not arguing that we go back to some more traditional relationship between ourselves and nature. Instead, she argues that we need to forge an entirely new relationship to nature and to ourselves as subjects such as has never been imagined before (p. 6). This would be a wholly creative endeavor rather than a retreat to the natural.


Western feminist philosophical thought has the potential to do some ground breaking work in exploring globalization as a concept, a system, and a reality. Philosophical feminism has already engaged in some of the necessary groundwork for a critique of the movement of globalization, especially in terms of seeing how women have been constructed and homogenized by cultural and commercial forces. However, in spite of these insights, many feminists have turned away from larger systematic critiques of injustice and have turned instead to interpersonal models of politics and an advocacy of local action. I have argued that this turning away from a more overarching critique inhibits feminists, and other theorists, from discussing globalization. This nostalgia for a local, natural, and premodern way of doing politics is illuminating, but ultimately isolating. In spite of this tendency of feminist philosophy, there is a potential for feminist philosophy to contribute to the project of conceptualizing globalization, as evidenced in the work of Luce Irigaray.

I have explored only one specifically philosophical feminist possibility for conceptualizing globalization, Irigary’s feminist version of cosmopolitanism. There are many others left unexplored and unthought. I encourage feminist philosophers to join feminists in other disciplines to contribute to the discourse of globalization. Philosophers, and feminist philosophers in particular, have some particular tools and rich ideas to contribute to our collective understanding of globalization processes and their consequences. Perhaps what Rorty (1999) says of Dewey, Derrida, and Habermas can also be said of feminist philosophers attempting to look at the big picture of globalization. “This kind of anti-authoritarianism helps people set aside religious and ethnic identities in favour of an image of themselves as part of a great human adventure, one carried out on a global scale. This kind of philosophy, so to speak, clears philosophy out of the way in order to let the imagination play upon the possibilities of a utopian future” (pp. 238-9). Perhaps this is a call for a feminist philosophy of a different kind, a truly cosmopolitan philosophy that can marry the immanence of particular experience and the transcendence of ideas, respecting individual difference while uniting all in a healthy human community.


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