Blogging the Theoretical

Power in Feminism Without Borders (Revised)

October 12, 2011 · No Comments

Feminism without Borders addresses various issues regarding representation of woman in the third world through its analysis of academic discourse.  The author Mohanty argues against the way in which feminist scholar’s reproduce the binary perspective of women in the third world “as a homogeneous ‘powerless’ group often located as implicit victims of particular socioeconomic systems”(Mohanty 23) set opposite the empowered west. She posits that this perspective is too narrow and fraught with harmful assumptions, and in this quote the words “particular socioeconomic systems” speak to her true discussion of power.  She addresses resistance and power in terms respectively of her politics of solidarity and in her words “the processes of capitalist domination”(Mohanty 139).  It is built around collective resistance tempered by a respect of the differences of positionality between women of the world as well as the recognition of global capitalism as one of the primary forces of oppression in the world today specifically in labor and higher education.


Implicitly drawing on Marxist conceptualizations of social politics Mohanty asks, “How does global capitalism, in search of ever-increasing profits, utilize gender and racialized ideologies in crafting forms of women’s work?”(Mohanty 141).  She explains how the idea of “women’s work” represents many women’s labor as not labor exploiting their production.  One of her examples of a proper analysis of oppression of women’s labor in the third world is Maria Mie’s study of lace worker’s in India in which their role as housewives and perception of their lace making as “women’s work” despite the goods produced being sold in the global market prevents them from organizing against their unfair conditions.  Mohanty notes that Mie’s analysis shows the specific positionality of one type of oppression within the greater overarching hegemony of global capitalism. (Mohanty 32)  This perfectly illustrates Mohanty’s discussion of power in labor politics, in which the acknowledgement of the intricacies and multimodal deployment of oppression against a whole variety of women workers is situated within the framework of a greater oppression in the form of the “processes of capitalist domination.”  As an alternative to this she suggests her own politics in solidarity.  As global capitalism utilizes gendered and racialized ideologies in a sort of politics of difference whereby the diversity of positionalities is used to exploit peoples around the world, Mohanty’s politics of solidarity work to deprive oppressive forces of their main ammunition through “the recognition of common interests as the basis for relationships among diverse communities.”(Mohanty 7) In doing so she hopes to recognizes individual positionality without losing collective strength for resistance.


Mohanty is very concerned with the rise of capitalism and its effects on the way in which this affects the way in which societies treat individuals.  She writes about how in the framework of global capitalism the “consumer” has been placed in the position of citizen (Mohanty 141).  She takes this idea a step further with her conceptualization of “relations of rule” which she applies as “multiple intersections of structures of power” with an emphasis on “the process or form of ruling, not the frozen embodiment of it.”(Mohanty 56) This conceptualization allows for a deeper more structural analysis of the way in which power is deployed which looks not at simply worker-owner or oppressed-oppressor dichotomies but instead at how power are entrenched and hegemonic. Looking through this lens at higher education and its increased privatization, Mohanty makes the point that if the source of knowledge is becoming more and more built around private enterprise it further reinforces the hegemony of capitalism.  Additionally the view of the academy as a place for free idea exchange allows for this reinforcement to occur virtually unnoticed.  This reinforcement and obscuration is one of the structural relations of rule that serve to perpetuate oppression. Thus Mohanty’s conceptualization of power is best summarized as specific cultural and societal oppression recognized both within its individual global positionality as well as within overarching capitalist domination. This is recognized as being reproduced through institutional sources of knowledge shielded from criticism by dominant representations of academic purpose which are apart of various relations of rule perpetuating oppression through structural means.


Mohanty, Chandra. Feminism without Boarders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.


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