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Chandra Mohanty – “Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles

In revisiting her seminal 1986 essay, Mohanty hopes to reconsider the location her work came out of, where she sees her argument now and what theoretical and methodological questions are now facing comparative feminist politics.  M. notes that she first wrote the essay to discover and articulate a critique of “Western feminist” scholarship on 3rd world women via the discursive colonization of 3rd world women’s lives and struggles” (222).  At the heart of this original practice was the goal to help Western feminists understand that the micropolitics of context, subjectivity, and struggle also shape feminist work in world systems and processes – not all 3rd world women are the same, nor are their contexts.

Reflecting on her composition of the original “Under Western Eyes” essay, M. notes that she was writing at the time with the critics of “Eurocentric humanism” who worked to demonstrate the false universalization and masculinization of assumptions.  Mohanty recognizes that in the time period between her first writing (1986) and the present her work has been appropriated by the sort of surface-level postmodernism concerned with fragmentation and difference over commonality and specificity (or specificity within commonality).  In this revisit, M. notes the same thing that Jameson does in his essay “Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue,” namely that difference is defined in terms of commonality and that recognizing and theorizing difference allows us to move toward universal concerns more fully.

M. notes that while her earlier focus was on distinctions between Western and 3rd World feminist practices, now she has chosen to concentrate on an anticapitalist transnational feminist practice and the possiblities of that practice to mobilize against capitalism.  Drawing on historical materialism and racialized gender, M. describes a new transnational anticapitalist methodology that starts from the location of the most oppressed in order to develop a universalism that speaks to improve all individuals lives.  Relying on Shiva, M. notes how the colonialist and corporate power of Western science is a normative system that ignores 3rd world epistemologies in favor of a paradigm of private property.

M. states that she is interested in recrafting the project of decolonization by shifting from “under Western eyes” to “under and inside” the hegemonic spaces of Western eyes.  Relying on a “comparative feminist studies” or “feminist solidarity” model of feminist cross-cultural work in the academy, M.  describes how this model can reveal the “common differences” needed to develop solidarity and universalism.  Working against the feminist-as-tourist model that glosses and monolithizes the 3rd World women’s experience and working against the feminist-as-explorer model (which is more just) that emphasizes the non-Euro-Americanness of womenness (but also devolves into a cultural relativist position) but fails to understand the totality that globalization makes of microcontexts of gender, identity, etc. M. argues for the “feminist solidarity or comparative feminist studies model” that understands women and girls in the context not of physical geography but in the reciprocal definition of the global and the local.  This sort of a class doesn’t just understand women in relation to intersections of race, class, gender, nation, and sexuality; rather, it emphasizes the mutuality and coimplication of the histories of these communities across global and local (U.S. and Mozambique) scales.  This methodlogy and pedagogy operates on the One-Third/Two-Thirds or social minority/social majority paradigm.  This method allows for an interesting formulation of activism across borders.

M. makes an interesting claim that Eurocentric and cultural relativist postmodernist models of scholarship fit nicely into the global capitalist system because they reify a logic of decentralization and accumulation of differences.  M. also notes that “structural adjustment policies” (Re: IMF, WB) have reprivatized women’s labor because of a lack of social programs from a privatizing state.  More broadly, racialized gendered bodies are the primary site that global capitalism uses to generate profit.

Questions:

  1. Are Mohanty and Jameson approaching the idea and implications of difference in similar manners?  In other words, is Mohanty collapsing the binary in much the same way that Jameson does in his own work on identity, difference, and contradiction?
  2. How can Vandana Shiva’s work on patents and IP be of use in your own work?
  3. Is M.’s theorization of new methodologies of feminism similar to the grassroots work that occurs at the end of Appadurai’s Fear of Small Numbers?

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