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A Wide Canvas

Gita Chadha

By Kanchana Mahadevan
D.K. Printworld, New Delhi  and ICPR, 2014, pp. 285, Rs. 600.00


Like other existential crises or questions, feminist dilemmas too are fraught with the need to forge an adequate praxis for the individual feminist and for the collective consciousness that we have learnt to describe as feminist. These dilemmas encompass a wide canvas of issues ranging from epistemology and morality to the concerns of change and transformation. An important axis on which one of these dilemmas is played out—across cultures—is women’s traditional roles as care givers in the private domain and their quest to free themselves of the burden of the same. In academia, contemporary feminisms aim at developing interdisciplinary approaches to specific concerns pertaining to women and gender and also to wider issues relating to the world we inhabit. These approaches not only seek to inform reform and transform disciplinary practices from feminist locations and standpoints but also aim to establish women’s studies as a separate discipline in itself. On the other hand, contemporary feminisms also aim to open feminist scholarship to be informed by shifts in the disciplinary canons of the academia, be it the sciences, the social sciences or the humanities. This two way relationship is rough but necessary—if both have to grow critically. Realizing that these are not either/or choices feminist academics continue to forge their way to disrupt disciplines in an Irigarian sense, on different axes, both from within and from the outside. Kanchana Mahadevan’s book is a strong attempt at shaking philosophical canons from within but it is also an effort to raise questions that are critical for women’s studies /feminist scholarship itself. Mahadevan picks on the tension between what she associates or sees associated with as feminine and what she associates or sees associated as feminist. As a practitioner of the discipline of philosophy, she uses the disciplinary register of philosophy as the base to formulate and articulate this tension. While Mahadevan is largely raising philosophical questions about knowledge and morality, she is disrupting the canon by arguing for historicizing and contextualizing both the subject as knower and the object of knowledge. She draws upon various feminist thinkers to argue for critiquing canonical notions, both in western and Indian philosophy, as being located in a gendered history, something that does not find easy favour in the philosophical community and practice. Mahadevan’s introduction is an exposition of the task and aims of feminist philosophy. Part One ...

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