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Asha Achuthan


Edited by Devaki Jain and Pam Rajput
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2003, pp. 388, Rs. 350.00

KEY CONCEPTS IN FEMINIST THEORY AND RESEARCH
By Christina Hughes
Sage Publications and Thousand Oaks, London, Delhi, 2002, pp. 221, £16.99

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 8 August 2004

Feminism is today an anachronism … women are making their own negotiations all the time … women’s studies is nothing but a ghettoisation … the difficulty of articulating a politics is greater today when there is no visible women’s movement …   Writing on women’s anything today without sounding tired, repetitive, even unnecessary, seems to have become something of a challenge, given the current visibility of women’s issues (and even this is not a particularly original observation, having already been voiced from both within and outside the women’s movement). Especially in the case of ‘basic’ texts like the ones under review, the challenge seems greater – what is left to be written about key concepts already in usage in feminist theory and research? What may be added to the debates on women’s studies by looking at further narratives? What remains ‘to be done’?   Or, put differently, what can be done or achieved through the particular perspective of feminism? Put this way, the question reflects the new face of an old debate in academia, and sometimes in the tense interlocution between academia and activism. Is experience the way to go or is standpoint? The debate has taken several forms even within feminist critiques of social science, but we are concerned here with the question that gets asked of feminism through it. Are women’s lived experiences adequately spoken for through a feminist standpoint? While feminism itself has been concerned to explore the dynamics of the relation between experience and standpoint, and further to negotiate antagonisms between standpoints (hence the feminist question is, as Christina Hughes quotes Colebrook as saying, “What a philosophy might do … not ‘What does it mean’” – p. 174), the pair of terms has also been used to ask the question – can there be a feminist standpoint? Let us examine this more closely.   In a climate where it has become difficult to separate the language of feminism from development, consciousness-raising – closely linked to the feminist standpoint method of theorizing experience – has become a bad word. Partly pointing to the vanguardism inherent in much feminist practice, it has also meshed too easily with empowerment, capability-building, gender training—all programmatic approaches of women-in-development policies in Indian contexts. For critiques of development, then, a parallel critique would be of feminism as standpoint. These critiques would suggest that context will have to be key, following Wittgenstein, and responses will necessarily be contingent, provisional, disaggregated.   ...


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