By Jenae Nicoletta
In Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Chandra Talpade Mohanty conceptualizes knowledge as the practical application of a theory, which in turn allows knowledge to germinate social change (195). She considers theory to be “a deepening of the political, not moving away from it: a distillation of experience, and an intensification of the personal” (Mohanty 191). Therefore, she also places a great importance on the power of self-definition in relation to knowledge. Mohanty locates her own “intellectual and political genealogy” in order to illustrate this point (192). She compares and contrasts the meanings of being a feminist and racialized both in India and in the U.S. She attempts to understand her changing labels and self-identifications as well as new questions and contradictions that she discovers along her journey (Mohanty 190). She argues that this definition allows us to better understand differences, which will in turn facilitate the construction of solidarities across divisions and diversity.
Mohanty emphasizes the importance of analyzing the “commoditization” of knowledge within U.S. academies (171). She argues that knowledge is being capitalized into “commercial property” (Mohanty 173). Therefore, it is important to understand the structures that create and maintain power, especially because they are not always obviously visible. In addition, universities have become more entrepreneurial and corporate. She believes that the values and ideologies associated with entrepreneurial, corporate universities conflict with the values of a democratic, public university (Mohanty 174). Attention has shifted from educators to products of education (Mohanty 178) and feminist educators are being denied tenure due to the “’political’ or unconventional nature of their work” (Mohanty 175). However, Mohanty also argues that the restructuring of universities does not mean the total loss of a space to engage in alternative knowledge production processes. After all, Mohanty states, “what I hope and struggle for, I garner as my knowledge, create it as the place from where I seek to know” (123). We must continue to understand, challenge and unmask the political structuring of the university.
Mohanty asserts the importance of attempting to investigate questions of race and gender in regard to the ways in which they are being “commodified” in the U.S. (Mohanty 215). She argues that feminist learning environments compel us to “identify and challenge the politics of knowledge that naturalizes global capitalism” (Mohanty 171). Some of the places she believes this is trying to be done are in women’s studies, black studies, and ethnic studies fields. Mohanty describes knowledge production in these areas as being shaped by “difference that attempts to resist incorporation and appropriation by providing a space for historically silenced peoples to construct knowledge” (195). Since these fields place an importance on self-definition, experience is authorized in order to look closely at the ways in which individuals are politicized based on race, gender, class, and sexualities (Mohanty 202). This allows students to become active in knowledge production rather than being mere observers. Mohanty argues for people of color as well as “progressive white people” to create oppositional knowledge rather than “accommodative” knowledge (217).
In addition, the main argument in this book is for the decolonization of theory in order to practice solidarity. Mohanty attempts to expose the issues that occur when Western feminists assume that all Third World women can be similarly stereotyped. Therefore, Mohanty describes ways in which Third World women produce knowledge through an understanding of self-identity. Writing is one important site for the production of knowledge because compels these women to “rethink, remember, and utilize” their lived experience as a foundation of knowledge (Mohanty 78). Within the last thirty years, publishing houses have printed autobiographies or “life-story-oriented texts” written by Third World feminists (Mohanty 78). However, storytelling, oral history, fictional texts, and poetry are other important sites that allow for alternative knowledge production. These sites create a shared feminist political consciousness because they allow these women to speak from within a collective rather than for a group (Mohanty 81).
To summarize, Mohanty is arguing against speaking for a group. Mohanty adds that Western feminists problematically construct Third World women “as a homogeneous ‘powerless’ group often located as implicit victims of particular socioeconomic systems” (23). To move away from speaking for a group, she suggests we learn to understand how our identities are defined considering our geographic locations, histories, and genealogies. Analysis must be contextual. We cannot construct “monolithic images” of Third World women (Mohanty 37). It is also important to analyze who is producing knowledge about Third World women and from what location they are doing so (Mohanty 45). Mohanty suggests that through the understanding of self-identity and the understanding of gender and race, there are ways to make connections and ask better questions rather than attempting to provide an absolute history and theory of Third World women.
Mohanty, Chandra Talapade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.