Anglo-American second wave feminisms: the ethics of heterogeneity

Whelehan, Imelda (1993) Anglo-American second wave feminisms: the ethics of heterogeneity. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates debates and tensions in Second Wave Anglo-American Feminisms since the sixties. It interrogates claims that feminism is in crisis, and that the term 'feminism' itself is now semantically overburdened. Its chief purpose is to show that despite feminism's heterogeneity, there are central features of feminist politics which offer an oppositional identity to theorists concerned with exposing the way meanings of gender still shape society and academic discourse. The scope of this work extends from early Second Wave writings to current scholarly reflections on the interface between feminist and other critical theories. This study emphasizes that even the apparent 'anti-theory' thrust of early writers stand testimony to an abiding concern with theories of knowledge, power and representation. Even feminism's early antagonism to 'high theory' could be interpreted as a challenge to the means by which 'theory' is constructed.

The first three chapters examine the emergence of a 'Second Wave' in feminist thought, and the various investments of its differing 'strands' in existing political and theoretical positions. Chapters Four and Five scrutinize what are deemed gaps or sites of conflict in Second Wave theory: theories of ideology, culture, sexuality and subjectivity. Feminism is arguably at its most radical and contentious where its methodology drifts furthest from the epistemological 'mainstream'. Chapter Six considers recent developments in feminist thought - many of which emerged during the writing of this work - illustrating a growing chasm between academic feminism and political feminism.

The conclusion engages with critical discussions of feminism's alleged 'identity crisis', and the means by which feminist agendas are put to anti-feminist uses in face of a political swing to the Right in Britain and the USA. It suggests that the worst effects of a 'backlash' might be countered by greater attention to feminism's recent past. This is not to advocate nostalgia, but to indicate that feminism can learn from its past and present 'mistakes'. Recent questions are not new, but ones which merit ever more complex solutions, for the sake of feminism's survival as an autonomous and challenging philosophy.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:Knight, D.
Uncontrolled Keywords:Feminism
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures
ID Code:1310
Deposited By:Ms Valerie Airey
Deposited On:27 May 2010 11:42
Last Modified:27 May 2010 11:48

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