Blogging the Theoretical

Mohanty and Knowledge (Draft)

October 7, 2011 · 2 Comments

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 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). One of the places she believes this is trying to be done is 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 summerize, Mohanty is arguing against speaking for a group. Therefore, she believes we must 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.


Works Cited

Mohanty, Chandra Talapade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.


Categories: Chandra Mohanty · Group One · Jenae

2 responses so far ↓

  •   ahvang08 // Oct 9th 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Awesome!! You do a great job of addressing Mohanty’s use of knowledge. In your first paragraph you might want to reference her idea of borders and being borderless. I think this could help you develop your idea in the first paragraph. I like your second paragraph a lot, I think its very strong. You might want to reference more of the issues in the academy to kind of show how 3rd world feminist struggle with obtaining knowledge.
    Great work!

  •   rcrich09 // Oct 9th 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Humbling as always, you do a fantastic job of showing how Mohanty addresses the use of knowledge. I think that the only thing you could do to improve it would be to add in some more about her perspective on the creation of knowledge especially in her discussion on higher education. Great work!

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