Philosophy and Feminism

PHIL 4950 001

Spring 1999

Professor: Dr. Valerie E. Broin
Office: L 195 d Phone: 667-3527 or 667-3362
Office Hours: W 11:15-12:15, 4-5 F 11:15-1:30
and by appointment

Questions concerning subjectivity are central in debates in feminist philosophy. They underlie any attempt to identify who and what "woman" is, what our relations to others might be, what it is to be ethical, what it might mean to be 'equal' or liberated, what might count as justice and effective social action, what it is to know and who the knowing subject is, and so on. In this class, we will examine and explore the contemporary debates as they focus on subjectivity and autobiography.

Recent developments in feminist autobiographical theory advance and extend philosophical questions concerning subjectivity. Through an examination of cutting-edge feminist thought we will explore the following kinds of questions:

Is there a fixed, generalizable category of "woman" or man" that we can presuppose in our analyses? Can we account for the amazing diversity among people and still operate with concepts such as "woman" or "man"? How are we subjected by socially operative discourses and practices, and how do these affect our understanding of ourselves and our experiences? To what do we refer when we speak about ourselves (that is, are we autonomous, relational, free agents, socially determined, biologically determined, multifarious)? How are we to make sense of the experiences we have and what qualifies as "reality," "experience," "agency," "truth," "politics." "justice," and "knowledge"? Can we esablish what political action we ought to take? Can we justify a particular account of reality?

Required Texts:

Feminists Rethink the Self, Diana Tietjens Meyers, ed. FRS

Women, Autobiography, Theory, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, eds. WAT


Course Requirements:

1. Three five-page essays critically analyzing a controversial issue in the assigned readings.

The topic is up to you but must involve careful analysis of at least two of the readings on the syllabus. Altogether these account for 65% of your grade.

2. A final paper (8-10 pages) that explores a particular autobiography vis a vis the theories we have discussed. 25%

3. Attendance and participation. 10%


Week 1 Experience and Subjectivity

2/15 Introduction

2/17 Joan W. Scott, "Experience" WAT#1

Week 2

2/22 Rita Felski, "On Confession" WAT#3

2/24 Susan Stanford Friedman, "Women's Autobiographical Selves: Theory and Practice" WAT#2

Week 3 Complicated Categories

3/1 Christine di Stefano, "Dilemmas of Difference: Feminism, Modernity, and Postmodernism (Reader)

3/3 Sidonie Smith, "Performativity, Autobiographical Practice, Resistance" WAT#5

Week 4

3/8 Anita L. Allen, "Forgetting Yourself" FRS#5

3/10 Naomi Scheman, "Queering the Center by Centering the Queer: Reflections on Transsexuals and Secular Jews" FRS#6

Week 5

3/15 ESSAY #1 DUE

Susan J. Brison,"Outliving Oneself: Trauma, Memory, and Personal Identity" FRS#1

3/17 Valerie E. Broin, "Negotiating Trauma: Domestic Violence, Narrative, and Self Construction (Reader)

Week 6

3/22 Marilyn Friedman, "Autonomy and Social Relationships: Rethinking the Feminist Critique" FRS#2

3/24 Hertha D. Sweet Wong, "First-Person Plural: Subjectivity and Community in Native American Women's Autobiography" WAT#11

Week 7 Dominant Theories of Power and Subjectivity

3/29 Elizabeth Grosz, "Contemporary Theories of Power and Subjectivity" (Reader)

3/31 Videotape: Wendy Brown, "The Future of Feminism"

Spring Break!

Philosophy and Feminism

Revised Syllabus


Week 8 Elizabeth Grosz, "Contemporary Theories of Power and

4/12-14 Subjectivity" (Reader)

Week 9

4/19 Jana Sawicki, "Feminism and the Power of Foucauldian Discourse" (Reader)

4/21 Helene Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (Reader)

Nancy Mairs, "The Way In" WAT #40

Week 10

4/26 ESSAY #2 DUE

Diana Tietjens Meyers, "Emotion and Heterodox Moral Perception: An Essay in Moral Social Psychology" FRS#9

4/28 Gloria Anzaldua, "The New Mestiza" (handout)

Lourdes Torres, "The Construction of the Self in U.S. Latina Autobiographies" WAT#22

Week 11

5/3 Carolyn Kay Steedman, "Stories" WAT #19

5/5 Hertha D. Sweet Wong, "First-Person Plural: Subjectivity and Community in Native American Women's Autobiography" WAT #11

Week 12

5/10 Biddy Martin, "Lesbian Identity and Autobiographical Difference(s)" WAT#31

5/12 Julia Watson, "Unspeakable Differences: The Politics of Gender in Lesbian and Heterosexual Women's Autobiographies" WAT#32

Week 13

5/17 ESSAY #3 DUE

bell hooks, "writing autobiography" WAT#35

5/19 Sidonie Smith, "Autobiographical Manifestos" WAT#36

Final Paper Due