Blogging the Theoretical

“Please Knock First: An Examination Of How Capitalism Erodes Culture”

October 6, 2011 · 5 Comments

By Kate Aseltine

There is a serious problem with the way women living in the “Third World” have come to be conceptualized in the West. Stationed within our own “Euro-centric” discourses, we often overlook the varying and distinctive cultural contexts these women occupy. By viewing these women only through the lens of Western capitalist ideologies, we are complicit in the controlling imagery that “undercuts women’s agency by defining them as victims of a process of pauperization or of “tradition” or “patriarchy” rather than as agents capable of making their own choices.”(Mohanty 151). We overlook the examples of Third World women who have carved a space for themselves, as teachers, as entrepreneurs, as leaders, or we disregard these women as “outliers” from the normative subjugation. Though Mohanty would not hesitate to concede that the lives of many women in the Third World are bleak, she argues that the capitalist strategies of the West are not a solution. In fact, these subversive and increasingly globalized forms of capitalism are, in her estimation, structurally responsible for their strife.

Yet again, we find capitalism painted as the antagonist, determined to thwart an egalitarian future, and with good reason. As Mohanty emphasizes,” The common interests of capital (e.g. profit, accumulation, exploitation) are somewhat clear at this point” (Mohanty 140). As I argued in my previous blog, capitalism functions by creating inequitable power levels, establishing dominions of domination and subordination, and designating social groups as the privileged or “the other.” Those who occupy the space of this other, or minority, are then positioned to be utilized as cheap labor and are stripped of their rights by de-humanizing controlling images.

This mechanism can be seen throughout out our nation’s history, and remains a salient issue today. “In the United States, histories of slavery, indentured servitude, contract labor, self-employment, and wage work are also simultaneously histories of gender, race, and (hetero)sexuality, nestled within the context of the development of capitalism (i.e. of class conflict and struggle)” (Mohanty 146). Mohanty utilizes the example of slavery in the United States, when African American men and women were used as “chattel” to serve Caucasians and produce agriculture in the South, and the subjugation of people of color and women continues to be a salient issue today. These points argue for a reexamination of the picture of Third World women that exists in our imagination.

In examining the relationship between the women of the Third World and the West, Mohanty suggests that the Eurocentric colonizers of the past seem to have been replaced, by a modern model disguised as “globalization.” Capitalist interests in the Third World have changed very little over the past 500 years. The West continues to strip women of the Third World of culture and agency, and leech their resources and labor. Women are the cheapest producers of foreign goods, and women of the Third World make the ideal employees. Using the example of female lace workers in Narspur, India, Mohanty asserts that jobs and tasks are established within an “ideological construction… in terms of notions of appropriate femininity, domesticity, (hetero)sexuality, and racial and cultural stereotypes.” These discourses drastically belittle what women, particularly women in the Third World, are capable of by portraying them as infantile, a controlling image we reinforce every time we think of them simply as victims. Job typing has facilitated the creation of a social identity: workers are isolated within their sex, race, and class, and this isolation perpetuates their subjugation. The work of these women is shaped within this framework, and “tedious” and “unskilled.” The effect of these definitions of women’s labor is not only that it makes women’s labor and its costs invisible, but that it denies women power and agency, effectively trapping them within a position of subordination. Capitalist principles stress that valuable labor and laborers, exist only within the masculine sphere, which is why Mohanty argues that, “Analyzing and transforming this masculine definition of labor, which is the mainstay of capitalist patriarchal cultures, is one of the most significant challenges we face” (Mohanty 151).

Our role in the future of our increasing globalized, and capitalistic world is changing dramatically, and we must adjust our conception of ourselves accordingly. Within the globalized, capitalistic matrix of domination we no longer occupy the role of citizens –we are consumers. This has dramatic implications on the way we interact with our politic systems, particularly the ones responsible for perpetuating this matrix. When we subscribe to controlling images of women of the Third World, we take a step backwards. When we vote for a system sustained by subjugation, we deny ourselves a more egalitarian future. To combat this, we must rethink what we know about positionality and experience. We need a movement built on solidarity, and productive solidarity cannot exist without an acknowledgement of culture, history, and difference.


Categories: Chandra Mohanty · Group Two · Kate

5 responses so far ↓

  •   bphess09 // Oct 8th 2011 at 11:26 am


    I always enjoy reading your posts that have such unique syntax and diction. The style of your writing is very transparent yet sophisticated and the quotations you’ve used support your claims very well and provide a deeper analysis of your topic.

    You are right to point out the role Western capitalism plays in the struggles of Third World women and its function as a perpetuated discourse historically. Also, as you summarize the need to practice solidarity…PRODUCTIVELY! is huge and provides a really powerful conclusion.

    I would be interested to see more of your analysis on “the other” and how it mirrors the struggles of Third World women in the working-class. What does this correlation further suggest? Just an idea, overall, you’ve done an exceptional job providing an extensive analysis of your topic!


  •   emseav09 // Oct 8th 2011 at 9:12 pm


    First off, I love the title of your blog. It is very creative and makes me that much more inclined to read what it is you are saying. I liked reading your post and thought you did a great job in adding in contextual evidence/ quotes to tease out what you were saying.

    The only real note that I have gos along with what brooke said in the fact that i am really interested to see you expand what you said about “the others” and relating that back to what Mohanty is saying about third world women.

    Overall, Great job and I look forward to reading your final draft.

    – Erika

  •   jmrodr09 // Oct 9th 2011 at 9:14 pm


    I enjoyed reading you post. I think you did a really good job.

    I like the way you analyzed the conceptions of the “Third World woman” and described the role within western capitalism. You supported your claims with a lot of textual evidence which I felt reflected your thesis and main point.

    I like how you touch upon the future and relate the fact that our conceptions and the way we perceive things shape our future and mind set.

  •   jmrodr09 // Oct 9th 2011 at 9:15 pm

    ^^^- Jennifer R.

  •   ogmcma08 // Oct 9th 2011 at 11:46 pm


    Fabulous post again this week! You write in a manner, that is both sophisticated but simple, and you have a significant force behind the words you write.

    I don’t have many critiques for you this time around, and I’m specifically interested by your discussion on the changing status of the individual in society. You could potentially expand on this change of the individual in capitalistic terms, and how it fits into the guise of globalization.

    I think you could hand this post in now. It is fabulous, and I always love reading your essays!


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