Blogging the Theoretical

Entries Tagged as 'Blogging the Theoretical'


September 19th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought describes how black women have been portrayed in various lights that confront the ideas of race, gender, and class oppression. Women, black women more specifically have been oppressed by the white patriarchal society and how this oppression and objectification has lead to black women’s experiences and life stories in some way to serve interest or benefit the elite white males. Throughout Black Feminist Thought, Collins discusses the oppression paradigms of race, class and gender to conceptualize domination and resistance. “Gender” comes to the forefront when Collins brings up the ideas of “controlling images”. Examples of controlling images around Black women include; “The Mammy- the maid/ housekeeper (Collins 80), the “Matriarch”- head bread winner of the household (Collins 83), the “Welfare Mother”- mother who spends too much time with her children (Collins 86), the “Jezebel”- the powerful and masculine women” (89), and the “Hootchie”- the slutty/ distasteful black women (Collins 90). All of these images are examples of gender exploitation and created in the eyes of white males. In my opinion these gendered images serve to coerce/ force black women into acting a certain way based on the image they have been associated with.
Collins expressed how through Black Feminist Thought, black women are able to look past these controlling gendered images and share experiences/ ideas with other black women to provide them with a new angle to define themselves individually, as a community and within the society. These collective powers of black women allow them to find an outlet of the gendered patriarchal society.
Nash also mentions “controlling images” in “Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Anti-pornography Feminism”, which looks into the world of pornography and how black women are portrayed as objects in another “patriarchal tool” (Nash 62). Pornography as another patriarchal tool is where male power and inequality are “innocently” masqueraded as sex. Nash also talks about how even in the gendered division of pornography between mean and women; women are depicted differently even further when broken up into white women and black women. Men depict white women in porn as being “pillow- soft pussy willows” (Nash 54) and black women as “shit” (Nash 55). These male depicted views play a huge factor in how women are viewed/ seen in pornography. Nash explains “the treatment [views] of black women’s bodies in the 19th century Europe and U.S. may be the foundation upon which contemporary pornography as the representation of women’s objectification, domination, and control is based” (Nash 55); meaning to me that these gendered images of women depicted by men is what has led to the control and domination of women by men. Overall, Nash’s argument can be summed up in when Nash said: “anti-pornography feminism’s fingerprints smudge the lens through which black feminism examines sexuality, pornography, and pleasure” (Nash 52).
Based on these readings it seems apparent that gender oppression is the oldest and possibly the most fundamental oppression in history in which other oppressions could be based on, due to the interlocking system of intersectionality. Nash provides the pillars to Collins in showing a visual representation in Collins’ Ideology that black women fall outside of white female sexuality and respectability.

Tags: Blogging the Theoretical · Erika · Group Two

Power by Maddy

September 19th, 2011 · No Comments

Power: By Madeleine Lavelle

In Patricia Hill Collins’ piece, Black Feminist Thought she discusses the role of power in relation to Black feminism in today’s world. In Chapter 12 she introduces two approaches to power, the dialectical approach and the individual approach. Collins also presents the four domains of power that any matrix of domination is organized with, and how these approaches and domains influence Black feminism of today’s’ society.
The first approach to power is the dialectical approach links oppression and activism together, when groups that have more power than others use their power to oppress institutions with less power than them. The change that results from this approach comes from people’s ability and freedom to do so. (292) The dialectical approach emphasizes the significance of knowledge in developing self-defined, group-based standpoints that, in turn, can foster the type of group solidarity necessary for resisting oppressions.” (293) The other approach Hill Collins’ describes is the individual approach. This approach is an “intangible entity that circulates within a particular matrix of domination and to which individuals stand in varying relationships.” (292) This emphasizes how individuals’ subjectivity influences their actions within various matrixes of domination. As each Black woman changes her ideas and viewpoints, the shape of power also changes with her. Over time the “individual self-definitions and behaviors shift in tandem with a changed consciousness concerning everyday lived experiences” which exemplifies the individual approach. (293) Together these two approaches work to help create a well-rounded sense of Black women’s identities.
The first domain of power is structural; it involves how social institutions are organized overtime to subordinate Black women. For example, the schools and education system, housing and media have worked as structural institutions to belittle Black women and keep them at a disadvantage. “These overlapping social institutions have relied on multiple forms of segregation by race, class, and gender to produce these unjust results.” (295) These structural institutions have worked to oppress Black women and prevent social change.
The second domain is disciplinary, which means when laws force schools, industries, hospitals and banks to stop discriminating against Black women, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the organizations will follow through. “The disciplinary domain of power has increased in importance with the growing significance of bureaucracy as a mode of modern social organization.” (299) This has resulted in bureaucracy controlling the race, and gender of these organizations to prevent social change that they feel is unacceptable. So, even though laws may order institutions to stop discriminating, the buercratics of those industries will find ways around it so they can continue their mission.
The hegemonic domain of power is the third domain Collins’ touches upon, and she explains that the “hegemonic” ideology of the dominant class is what is important and is what is put forth as the “right thing.” This being said, the hegemonic ideology is consistent with white males, and looks to oppress anyone or anything this is unlike them. This belief system makes it impossible for Black women to rise above and move up socially.
The final domain of power Collins’ puts forth is the interpersonal domain. This domain shows that intersecting oppressions has victimized African-American women and that by portraying them as passive victims creates the idea that they can’t rise above their current situation. But on the other hand, painting them as strong women shows people that they can handle what is being thrown their way, which results in others continuing to oppress them.
In conclusion, the two approaches that Collins’ highlights, the dialectical and the individual, show her audience how Black women organize their consciousness and different views of their empowerment as Black females. Also, the four domains of power each matrix of domination is organized with are seen as interconnected categories. These approaches and domains show the complexity of Black feminine power and how over time it can shift and transform into a new entity depending on the society and culture that influences the matrixes of domination.


Tags: Blogging the Theoretical · Group Three

The Solution

September 16th, 2011 · 3 Comments

According to Patricia Hill Collins, any oppressed group such as black women have a common goal they want empowerment. In order to achieve this goal black women must rethink feminism as a social justice project with a complex notion of empowerment. As discussed in Black Feminist Thought, this can be accomplished by analyzing the domains of power.

The four domains of power include, structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal. “Structural domain of power encompasses how social institutions are organized to reproduce Black women’s subordination over time” (Collins p 295). These institutions have become conditioned to oppress black women for decades; everyday ideologies are taking for granted because we believe they are natural. Hill Collins states, “structural forms of injustice that permeate the entire society yield only grudgingly to change” (Collins p 296).  What she means by this is even though black women have made many advancements, discrimination and oppression has not gone away just the face of it has change with the time. The second domain of power is disciplinary which manages within organizations. As we read in Black Feminist Thought, “disciplinary domain of power has increased in importance with the growing significance of bureaucracy as a mode of modern social organization” (Collins p 299). This form of power allows for the institutions to reproduce oppressions as well as mask their effects. According to Collins, she believes that resistance from black women within these bureaucracies is the main strategy for changing this domain (Collins p 300).  Hegemonic power is the third domain covered in Black Feminist Thought.

“Hegemonic domain of power deals with ideologies, culture, and consciousness” (Collins p 302). In order for the dominant groups to remain in power they create social stereotypes and ideologies about an oppressed group, which are then reinforced by popular media and help to legitimize the dominant groups rule. Hill Collins states that black women need to focus on self-definition and reclaiming the “power of the mind” as an important way of demonstrating their resistance (Collins p 304). The fourth and final power of domain is the interpersonal. Interpersonal domain of power gives into the dominant groups hegemonic ideologies and makes the oppressed groups forget their own culture and ways of knowing (Collins p 306). As we read in Black Feminist Thought, black women and oppressed groups need to focus on individual change before they can change as a whole. The only way in which an oppressed group can change is through collective action but in order for collection action to happen, individual empowerment must occur first.


Tags: Blogging the Theoretical · Group Three

Conceptualizing Knowledge in Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins

September 16th, 2011 · 3 Comments

By Jenae Nicoletta

In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins asserts that within the U.S., Black intellectuals often struggle to justify the credibility of the knowledge they posses due to the oppressive processes by which knowledge is validated. She argued that knowledge validation processes work to suppress Black intellectual knowledge. These processes are oppressive because they tend to reflect the interests of the dominant group of elite White American males (271). In order to properly theorize knowledge, Collins suggests the importance of understanding the concept of epistemology. Collins defines epistemology as the investigation of “the standards used to assess knowledge or why we believe what we believe to be true” and also “the ways in which power relations shape who is believed and why” (270). Collins’ deconstruction of the ways is which knowledge is validated suggests that knowledge can be biased towards the dominant group. This gives the dominant group the power to silence the knowledge of the “Other”.

Collins identifies two political standards that serve to manipulate knowledge validation processes. First, knowledge is appraised by a scholarly community, which generally consists of “White avowedly heterosexual men holding U.S. citizenship” (271). Collins contends that no scholar can escape from the influence of his or her positionality on personal experiences. We reflect and analyze knowledge based on our experiences, which not only shape the ways in which we view reality, but also what we believe to be true. Second, any scholar or scholarly community advocating a claim in opposition of the dominant cultural ideologies may be in jeopardy of being discredited. Furthermore, the few Black women holding positions of authority within institutions where knowledge is validated are used to prevent the majority of Black women from collaborating in knowledge validation processes. One tactic used is to encourage these women to work within the dominant cultural ideologies surrounding Black female inferiority (272). This omission of many Black females from positions of authority leads to the rejection of many competing knowledge claims made by Black women.

U.S. Black women bump up against many walls when trying to validate knowledge through the dominant process. Therefore, they are forced to deviate from standard academic theory. Collins claims that “reinterpreting existing works through theoretical frameworks” is one way of developing Black feminist thought (17). Moreover, U.S. Black feminist thought can take the form of poetry, music and essays (Collins 11). For example, blues songs written by Black females during the 1920s and 1930s are considered a site of academia, as are hip-hop songs of the 1990s (Collins 19). Also, Black female writers and filmmakers are considered a site of academia (Collins 115). All of these outlets are considered site of academia due to the artist’s ability to reveal her awareness of herself and the issues concerning Black women’s oppression. “Through their words and actions, grassroots political activists also contribute to Black women’s intellectual traditions” (Collins 20).

Collins still provides hope toward reaching truth even though Black female knowledge faces such culturally embedded obstacles. She declares, “all U.S. black women who somehow contribute to Black feminist thought as critical social theory are deemed to be ‘intellectuals’ (17). However, in Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminist and Antipornography Feminism, Jennifer C. Nash criticizes the argument that “every cultural product black women create is a kind of theory” (Nash 57).  Nash reasons, “this incredibly expansive conception of the theoretical tends to overpoliticize black woman’s cultural production suggesting that we can distill theoretical meanings out of black women’s seemingly quotidian social practice” (57). Nash seems to be warning other Black feminists against claiming that every black woman’s reflection on her own experience is theoretical. Nash is calling for more meaningful engagements with issues pertinent to Black Feminism.

Yet, Collins does offer alternative validation processes. She believes that by being an advocate for her ideas, she then validates her knowledge claims. Not only does this validate her claims, but also it inspires her readers to resist oppression. Furthermore, Collins argues “Black women intellectuals best contribute to Black women’s group standpoint by using their experience as situated knowers” (22). Later she states that women who claim to be experts and have lived through corresponding experiences are more credible that those who simply read about and studied such experiences (276). Collins backs up this claim by differentiating between knowledge and wisdom. “Knowledge without wisdom is adequate for the powerful, but wisdom is essential to the survival of the subordinate” (Collins 276).

Although Black feminist thought is not as widely accepted and celebrated in comparison to the dominant “truths,” Collins believes it is important to understand systems of oppression in order to seek out one’s own “truths.” “Partiality, and not universality, is the condition of being heard; individuals and groups forwarding knowledge claims without owning their position are deemed less credible than those who do” (Collins 290). This empowering statement illustrates Collins’ conceptualization of what she believes is true validated knowledge, not simply the knowledge that bolsters dominant ideas. Furthermore, “the existence of a self-defined Black woman’s standpoint using Black feminist epistemology calls into question the content of what currently passes as truth and simultaneously challenges the process of arriving at the truth” (Collins 290). We all must question, analyze, and trace the origins of and the ideologies backing the claims that are deemed as “truths” to understand why we believe them to be true.


Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics, 2009.

Nash, Jennifer C. “Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Antipornography Feminism.” Social Text. 26.4 (2008): 51-70.

Tags: Blogging the Theoretical · Group One · Jenae · Patricia Hill Collins

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