Nancy Hartsock. The Feminist Standpoint Revisited and Other Essays. Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.
Like Collins, Hartsock is concerned with the development of theory in response to current concerns and within feminist communities dealing in representation and social change. Two central contentions shape this collection of essays: "theory plays an important part in political action for social change. The second is that political theorists must respond to and concentrate their energies on problems of political action, most fruitfully as these problems emerge in the context of efforts for social change." (p.7) For Hartsock, two central themes of theory and political action are power and its relationship to epistemology.
In the present postmodernist/poststructuralist context, questions of systematic relations of power become even more central and important; Hartsock contends that a focus on multiple subjectivities can divert attention from "sustained axes of domination", particularly when situated against the present "triumph of the market" both ideologically and materially. Choice is cast in terms of consumerism, and democracy becomes another commodity.
As a result of these theoretical concerns, Hartsock is interested in the relationship between epistemology and power, particularly in terms of knowledge relations, methodologies, alternative epistemologies, theories of knowledge and their interaction with material conditions (Bannerji here would point out Marx's linking of structural and ideological relations).
Part One, "Political Movements and Political Theories"
In this section, Hartsock traces the development of early political theorizing, in the context of working within feminist collectives, showing how issues of praxis mutually constituted theoretical issues.
Hartsock's central question in this chapter: "what political change means from a feminist perspective, and [how to] work out criteria for developing and evaluating strategies for change."(p.15)
She begins by taking up the question of power. She examines traditional political science definitions of power, such as power meaning domination over others, or as a commodity that can be possessed by individuals. She indicates that within this framework, the individual using power de facto male (and one could add, a male within a capitalist society in which abstract ideas are conceptualized as things or commodities to be exchanged).
According to Hartsock, traditional political science uses of the notion of change focus on societal change or individual change but not on the process of change (again, we see abstract ideas represented as static things). Change is conceptualized in quasi-Darwinian terms as a hostile struggle between competing elements for survival. No criteria is given in this traditional paradigm for differentiating between and evaluating changes in superficial elements, and fundamental social change.
Thus, argues, Hartsock, a feminist re-definition of the concept of political change "requires an understanding of the women's movement's concern for the relationships of the personal and the political; a perspective on the struggles within the movement over the nature and uses of power, leadership and organization; sensitivity to the importance of process and interaction in social change; and finally, recognition of the fundamental links between economics and social relationships." (p.18) Moreover, feminist change takes place at a variety of sites and at a variety of levels: self, interpersonal relationships, collective organizing, institutional change, and the interdependent nature of these levels of change must be addressed, and always with "a sense of how each of these arenas for change relates to the interlocking structures of patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism."(p.18) Change, then, must be understood as an ongoing process which is continually operating in multiple ways and at multiple sites.
Hartsock then takes a more detailed look at each of these concepts and challenges of feminist power. Articulating the links between the personal and political allowed feminists to determine that "first, a fundamental redefinition of the self was an integral part of action for political change; and second, that the changed consciousness and changed definition of the self could occur only in conjunction with a restructuring of the social relationships in which each person was involved."(p.19) However, notes Hartsock, this stance burdened feminists with some problematic baggage: oppression became a source of identity as well as a pretext for inaction; the women's movement was looked to as a single source of self-identity; ideals of women were produced without attention to real women's abilities and limitations; identity and respect were predicated on interconnectedness with other women. All of these things, argues Hartsock, are both positive and negative representatives of change, in that although they raise new concerns, they nevertheless provide evidence of change having occurred. Hartsock remains committed to a project of navigating self-society relations, with a view to understanding "existence as a social process".
Once a movement has selves, it must somehow organize those selves. Hartsock turns to a discussion of how the women's movement dealt with the problem of leadership and organization. One source of problems was the conflict between two competing notions of power: power-over and power-from-within. Hartsock argues that organizations must address power on both of these levels in order to both work as a cohesive unit, and to engage with external structures which operate according to traditional hierarchies.
"[W]hen we look closely at the economic roles of women," writes Hartsock, "we see the ways capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy reinforce one another and how the ideology of individualism provides a philosophical justification for these structures."(p.23) Outlining the experiences of women in paid and unpaid work along both gendered and raced lines, she argues that these structures interlock and must be addressed systemically in order to challenge women's economic oppression.
Finally, moving from structures to ideology, Hartsock argues that change cannot address structures alone, but must "understand the importance of ideas and [recognize] the reciprocal effects of consciousness on actions and organizations."(p.25) For example, ideologies of "possessive individualism" within a capitalist context operate to reinforce the status quo, discourage change by locating critique at the level of individual failure, and fragment life into separate spheres of activity. Interestingly, Hartsock notes that fragmentation is sometimes a strategic necessity (reminiscent of the fragmented self of postmodernism and poststructuralism), but substantial change requires wholeness.
Thus, a conscious activism is concerned with integrating personal and political change. Hartsock suggests four criteria for evaluating potential strategies:
In this chapter, Hartsock reflects on a socialist conference which she attended, and subsequently develops a critique of the analytic model which is derived from that of the male-dominated Left. Most significantly for Hartsock, the male left "demonstrates that it has no concept of process", and thus is unable to make links between theory and practice; lived experience is separated from politics.
If we take the stance, says Hartsock, that feminism is a mode of analysis, rather than a set of given conclusions, then questions of process and change become significant. Feminist analysis is thus concerned with recognizing process and interaction, examining structures of relations in process (rather than as given categories), and understanding the world as a set of interlocking and dynamic elements. Appropriation, or creative incorporation of life experience (through which all theory becomes, in a way, "self-knowledge") is a necessary part of this revolutionary process. Moreover, if lived experience is privileged here, then feminism can easily incorporate difference and diversity, in that it is premised on respecting people's experiences enough to understand that they are in the best position to make their own revolution.
This mode of analysis directs feminists towards thinking about organizational priorities, which include coalition politics, allowing others to tell their own stories, respecting boundaries, working on concrete issues which are relevant to daily life (such as housing, safety, etc.).
Hartsock's central question in this section is how to develop a new conception of "work". To do this she examines what is wrong with capitalist and patriarchal definitions of work, and redefine requirements of human work. In addition, she critically evaluates the ways work is structured within feminist organizations, where new ideas/models for work can be experimented with.
Following Marx's notion of consciousness determined through work, Hartsock argues that estranged labour is "time and activity taken away from us and used against us." (p.46) Work, she proposes, must be conceptualized as a central human activity, such that what and how humans produce determines to a great degree what and who they are. Thus, proposes Hartsock, the nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production, and we must conceive of alternatives to estranged labour.
She revisits her thesis on understanding power and political change, to argue that we must understand power in a new way, as the capacity to self-create through activity, but that we must also confront traditional modes of power. Mental and manual labour are recast in Hartsock's terms as an artificial divide, an expression of power relations of rulers, and a separation of product from its conception/execution.
Thus, in the development of a feminist workplace, there are several challenges: problems of power (the solution to which requires having control over the worker's own time and activity); problems of the division between manual and mental labour (the solution to which requires development of cooperative rather than competitive or isolated work); and the obligation of the promotion of the full development of people as human individuals. Taking lessons learned from collective and cooperative work, Hartsock indicates that an equitable workplace need not mean all people do all things, but rather that people use their strengths and learn new skills.
Hartsock's main goal in this chapter is "to review feminist practices around difference in an attempt to clarify what we as a movement already know at some level." (p.57)
Her central questions:
Thus, says Hartsock, the central kernel of the issue here is that of "difference" (as in diverse characterstics of people) versus "Difference" (difference constituted against a norm and used as a basis for valuation).
In the early stages of the women's movement (as Weedon also points out), due in large part to their emphasis on "sameness" as a precondition for equality, feminists were unable to see how their denial of difference resulted in a failure to see how Difference came about (not to mention some women's active maintenance of Difference), and thus they were unable to combat it.
Once provided with some insights from the Black liberation movement (cf. Mitchell), feminist responses to Differences varied, from opposition to structured organization and leadership, to advocacy of collective work, to development of separatism. According to Hartsock, however, these responses indicated "feminist acceptance of the phallocratic logic of domination"(p.62), which was premised on an understanding of power as domination, and the belief that difference necessarily led to Difference.
However, in the course of organizing around difference, feminists were able to conceive of difference in a positive way, such as transforming difference into specificity rather than otherness. Hartsock argues that articulations of difference represent a creative tension within feminism, in that acknowledging differences among people creates the potential for complementarity and creativity, although feminists are still compelled to develop an understanding of how Difference works.
Part Two, "Reoccupying Marxism as Feminism"
In this section, Hartsock examines the role of Marxism in the development of feminist analysis, taking up methodological and epistemological issues and practices in Marx and applying them to new directions. Dialectical thinking, for Hartsock, is applicable to many areas of social life. She also revisits her earlier contention that feminism is a mode of analysis.
Hartsock argues that "aspects of the Marxist tradition represent important resources for insisting on the impossibility of neutrality and necessity of engagement, for recognizing that social relations structure (though do not determine) the ways we understand the world; and providing tools that can allow us to trace the ways our concepts and categories structure and express the ways we interact with the world." (p.75) However, Marxism is somewhat limited for Hartsock in that it views class as the only division, uses a fundamentally masculinist analysis and homosocial birth images, erases women from accounts of extraction of surplus value, and finally its 19th century Eurocentrism which does not address current issues.
Hartsock identifies the following contributions of Marx to feminist theory:
In terms of truth and knowledge, the Marxist paradigm changes the criteria for what gets to count as knowledge; "truth" is fluid and changeable; the search for knowledge is thus a human activity structured by human concerns. Truth not a "thing" that is "discovered", but a relation that is made real through a variety of practices.
In terms of subjectivity, the first significant Marxist point is that of the subject as "subjected", in other words as implicated in macroprocesses of power which, although they are significant in individual lives, can only be understood in examining society as a totality. On the positive side, subjects are not fully limited by this subjection, but exist in a state of possibility. Subjects are defined by their relation to larger collective subjects and/or groups, which are defined by macroprocesses; individuality is the "ensemble" of these relations. Thus, the constitution of subject is the result of a complex interplay between "individuals" and large-scale social forces.
In terms of the knowledge-power relation, Marxism holds that the criteria for privileging some knowledges over others are political and ethical as well as purely epistemological. The view from the margins tends to be clearer and better than the view from the dominant or privileged sites (cfhooks and Collins' "outsider-within"). Thus there is an argument made for privileging of some knowledge, on the grounds of their value for utopic visioning (cf. Collins, hooks, and Bannerji, in terms of knowledge for social change). The question, then, is how we can all use theoretical tools and insights to create theories of justice and social change that address our present concerns.
Hartsock's central thesis here is that "Marx can give us an important new perspective on the current debate over the nature of social science, since his work is meant to be at once an objective and scientific analysis of capitalism and a call for revolution." (p.85) Although traditional post-Enlightenmentenment scientific and philosophical paradigms privileged the separation of thought and action, Marx "escaped the duality of observation and action by beginning from a worldview founded on acting and feeling human beings".(p.87) For Marx, human activity is both ontology and epistemology; human activity is the way we come to know the world, and the basis for Marx's conception of the nature of humanity.
Hartsock identifies some central features in this analysis: "The importance of totality and process, the role of history, and a dialectical understanding of mediation lead to a re-definition of knowledge as self-knowledge, a redefinition of knowledge as the appropriation of life itself."(p.91)
In terms of totality, process, and the importance of history, Hartsock points out the primacy of the whole in giving meaning to the parts. Isolated meanings of facts and their social significance must be made, and the significance of any aspect of social relations must be comprehended from the perspective of social relations as a whole. This kind of analysis is a contradiction to the "aggregation of individuals" theory of empiricists, and conceives of reality as a social process: "since each phenomenon changes form constantly, as the relations of which it is composed take on different meanings and forms, the possibility of understanding processes as they change depends on one's grasp of their role in the social whole." (p.92) Thus the whole includes past, present, and future.
The second element that Hartsock identifies is dialectical thinking: "what empiricists have seen as static objects, Marx grasped as structures of relations in process"(p.93). In other words, reality always exists in processural and mediated form.
The third component of Marx's theory, that of objectivity, is understood in three ways:
Knowledge, for Marx, is the appropriation of things already internally known, thus there is no division between "internal" and "external" knowledge, as social knowledge is a form of self-awareness. It is only through conscious activity directed towards change that one can learn to know either the social world or oneself.
Hartsock's main goal in this chapter is to develop the methodological base of Marxism into a feminist standpoint, for use as an epistemological tool. She argues that there are several reasons for working from this basis: that feminist and Marxist method are complementary; that a more accurate version of relations of inequality begins from the point of view of the most marginalized. Beginning from this, Hartsock argues that standpoint of marginalized groups, namely women, provides a unique viewpoint from which to begin theorizing. The question for Hartsock here is whether one can discover a feminist standpoint on which to ground a feminist historical materialism. The thesis which grounds this theory of a feminist standpoint is that the sexual division of labour provides the foundation for a standpoint, on the basis of structures which define women's activities as contributors to subsistence and production/reproduction. A feminist standpoint allows us to "go beneath" patriarchal structures and understand them as "perverse inversions of more humane social relations" (p.107)
Moreover, a standpoint is more than "simply an interested position (interpreted as bias) but is interested in the sense of being engaged." A standpoint then, is an active stance which is predicated on particular forms of lived experience.
Hartsock makes several contentions about this standpoint, namely that:
This standpoint posits a duality of levels of reality as opposed to a simple dualism. Engagement in different activities produces different worldviews, thus a standpoint is something achieved rather than a pregiven viewpoint.
Hartsock is mostly concerned with the sexual division of labour, and notes Marxist limitations in understanding women's paid and unpaid labour, but also touches briefly on mothering and socialization. "The female experience in reproduction", she argues, sounding vaguely radical-feminist, "represents a unity with nature which goes beyond the proletarian experience of interchange with nature."(p.115) As a result, "the female experience in bearing and rearing children involves a unity of mind and body more profound than is possible in the worker's instrumental activity."(p.116) (see alsoIrigaray, Code, Belenky) In contrast, argues Hartsock, the development of masculinity results in abstracted selves who operate at the level of commodity exchange, rather than primarily at the level of production.
In this chapter, Hartsock uses a critique of Althusser to "demonstrate the extent to which our lives and thought are dominated by the dualisms of liberal theory, and make clear the difficulty of maintaining the dialectical tension between Marxism as a theory of liberation and Marxism as a systematic theory of capitalism. But because Marxism is indeed a political science, theoretical errors 'inevitably' involve political mistakes."(135) (this section is not really of interest for my purposes)
Part Three, "Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and Politics"
Hartsock describes two experiences of the division between activists and academic theorists to illustrate problems with recent (1980s) theories of difference. First, these theories can become immobilizing, because of the ascribed inability of anyone to speak for anyone else, and because, according to Hartsock, women's studies students learn about difference in an academic setting divorced from the concerns of the real world.
In this chapter, Hartsock takes analyses of exchange abstraction and abstract masculinity into account to critique Levi-Strauss' writings on kinship and the family. Her central thesis is that Levi-Strauss' theory of exchange of women must be set within a larger theoretical context, and that it leads to a phallocratic mystification of women's material lives and a location of women's oppression within the sphere of ideology rather than material relations. Levi-Strauss' paradigm, when critically analyzed from material standpoint, can be seen as articulating a series of artificial and ahistorical dualisms.
In Hartsock's reading of Levi-Strauss, valuable activity takes place at the level of the symbol; that which is abstract and unattainable is valued over concrete, and the production of symbols is privileged over material life activity. Women are completely external to the making of symbols and the exchange, exist only as commodities to be exchanged among men, and can be constituted only as "same" or "other". Based as this system is on asymmetrically weighted dualisms, women are read as "not fully human" in their relation to nature. However, as Hartsock writes, "[w]omen are the literal and material producers of men, who in turn like to imagine that the situation is otherwise."(p.183)
Hartsock thus challenges Levi-Strauss' claim to contribute to Marxist theorizing on a number of points: that his definition of social organization is Eurocentric and assigns only a symbolic capacity (rather than a production exchange relation) to so-called "primitive" societies; Levi-Strauss' privileging of intellect over practice; Levi-Strauss' ahistoricity; Levi-Strauss' contention that human beings are not intrinsically social but rather construct a society (against "natural" instincts); and finally Levi-Strauss' method, which has more in common with traditional positivism.
Hartsock examines Gayle Rubin's "Traffic in Women" article to extend critique of Levi-Strauss and to illustrate the dangers of building feminist theory on phallocratic theory. Her central questions here are: can feminists borrow from phallocratic theory without their own analyses suffering? To what extent can this analysis proceed w/o eventually moving into specifically feminist epistemology (in other words, should we even bother beginning with a phallocratic analysis at all)?
Rubin begins with the contention that sex-gender operates outside capitalist exchange, and locates her analysis in Levi-Strauss' "traffic in women" theory. Immediately, Hartsock identifies some problems with this analysis. For example, Rubin accepts some of the artificial dualisms inherent in Levi-Strauss' theory; locates analysis at level of exchange rather than production; over-values abstract with regard to the concrete and places emphasis on production of symbols rather than material relations; finally, her acceptance of theoretical model allows for no alternatives.
According to Hartsock, Rubin's acceptance of the primacy of abstract symbol systems leads to an acceptance of nature-culture divide (in favour of culture), which results in the location of women's oppression in realm of ideology. Rubin's acceptance of Levi-Strauss' theory leads to implication in resulting counterfactual claims, e.g. society is artificial, women are signs, and sex and gender are distinct from one another.
Rubin modifies Levi-Strauss as follows:
However, Rubin's main problem, as Hartsock sees it, is her exchange-level perspective and the use of the exchange abstraction. Within the ascribed kinship system and production of gender, all of women's concrete life activities vanish from the equation in favour of abstract signification of sameness or difference.
According to Hartsock, in response to criticisms in the 1980s, primarily made by theorists of colour, white feminists became interested in postmodernist theories. These theories seemed appealing in their "arguments about incommensurability, multiplicity, and the lack of definitive answers."(p.205) However, argues Hartsock, in their apparent critique of Enlightenment theories, postmodernism at best merely decimated these theories without suggesting alternatives, and at worst recapitulated the Enlightenment tendencies it supposedly critiqued.
Hartsock begins by outlining some of the characteristics of Enlightenment thought:
AsHarding and Bannerji would also argue, European colonialization during this time allowed for the creation of the Other which was necessary for the conception of transcendent Enlightenment subject. The Other is always conceptualized in this paradigm as a "not", a lack or void; the humanity of the Other was "opaque". Others were seen as members of a chaotic and anonymous plurality rather than members of human society; thus the Other is de facto an object, not a subject (cf. Mohanty). Thus, argues Hartsock, "one of our first tasks is the construction of the subjectivities of the Others, subjectivities that will be both multiple and specific."(p.210)
Hartsock is suspicious of the concurrence of postmodernism's rejection of the unified subject at the precise time of the emergence of other knowledges, such as postcolonialism. "Why is it," she asks, "that at the moment when so many of us who have been silenced begin to demand the right to name ourselves, to act as subjects rather than objects of history, just then the concept of subjecthood becomes problematic?"(p.210)
Hartsock turns to Richard Rorty, who argued against Enlightenment epistemology using a model of "normal" and "abnormal" discourse, and of philosophers as conversation partners rather than epistemological figures who have adopted particular viewpoints. In her critique of Rorty, Hartsock argues that Rorty ignored power relations, in that all of us are not equally invited to the conversational table. Second, he did not recognize that intentional marginality was a luxury of the privileged; for the marginalized who did not choose that position, their power is significantly limited. Third, his replacement of "abnormal discourse" for "revolutionary science" erases historical agency in a babel of indistinct and non-agential voices. Finally, Rorty defended Enlightenment values on the assumption that they have produced good outcomes (good for whom, we might ask?).
Hartsock then examines Foucault, and argues that his analysis of power erases systemic relations of domination, and focuses only on the individual as subjected to relations of largely invisible and over-multiple forms of power.
Thus, how might we re-think new theoretical possibilities? Hartsock offers some suggestions:
In essence, for Hartsock, liberatory theory involves using what we know about our lives as a basis for critique, and creating a variety of alternatives grounded in lived experience.
Hartsock, in this chapter, reiterates her earlier arguments about a feminist standpoint (central tenets, p.229) and responds to critiques of her earlier work. She notes that debates around her work have paradoxically both not addressed the Marxist component of the theory; and addressed her oversimplified two-level Marxist framework.
Hartsock addresses some of her critiques as follows. First, critics argue that she has based the feminist standpoint entirely on biology, reinscribing nature-culture split. Hartsock responds that she is concerned with specificities of women's embodiment, and moreover that she is not working with a positivist nature-culture split, but rather the Marxist assertion that there is no nature "out there". Nature, for Marx, "appears as a form of human work, since we duplicate ourselves actively, in reality, and come to contemplate the selves we have created in a world of our own making."(p.234) Therefore Hartsock's use of "sex" and "nature" is an active refusal of asymmetrically valued dualisms.
Second, critics argue that Hartsock posits an essentialist and unitary subject. While Hartsock agrees that she did not give proper attention to differences, she argues that she originally limited her analysis to "women's lives in Western class societies". Moreover, "truth" is not "discovered" but rather brought into being and given meaning through lived human experience.
Third, some critics are wary of the political dangers of a gender-oppositional strategy. Hartsock is careful here to dissociate a "standpoint" from actual beliefs of individual women. Rather, a standpoint is a tool and active stance, not a statement of actual consciousness. "Thus," argues Hartsock, "I make no claim about the actual consciousness of existing women, but rather I am arguing about the theoretical conditions of possibility for creating alternatives."(p.236)
As a result of these elements, a standpoint is not generated de facto through experience but born from struggle; "not generated unproblematically by simple existence in a particular social location. It is a product of systematic theoretical and practical work, and its achievement can never be predicted with any certainty." (p.237) "[T]he issue is the condition of possibility of new thinking inherent in each social location. It is not a matter of the aptitude of individual workers and still less 'the mystical properties of some collective proletarian world view.'" (p.239)
Having addressed these critiques, Hartsock proposes elements of a model for new theory:
Hartsock also identifies areas for more work: first, in the area of the status of "experience" and its interpretation; second, especially in the North American context, more attention needs to be devoted to the formation of groups (not as an aggregate of individuals); third, Hartsock argues "that there is a great deal of work to be done to elaborate the connections between politics, epistemology, and claims of epistemic privilege and to develop new understandings of engaged and accountable knowledge."(p.241) Knowledges, for Hartsock, are necessarily plural, partial, and situated, representing "a response to an expression of specific embodiment."(p.244)