Strategically speaking: The problem of essentializing terms in feminist theory and feminist organizational talk [Book Review]

Human Studies 21 (3):235-257 (1998)
Abstract
This paper examines the discursive construction of collective identity in several feminist organizations, as a way of shedding new light on the debate over essentializing or totalizing terms in contemporary feminist/postmodernist theory. We argue that while this debate is about language, it has remained largely untouched by the insights of a discursive approach. The latter as we take it up here treats language as irremediably strategic or interested. In contrast, the feminist argument over essentializing terms appears to hold to a correspondence version of language, a position which limits the debate in fatal ways. Part 1 reviews the argument that terms such as women, feminist and feminist identity are essentializing discourses which dominate by silencing difference. Part 2 then considers the way one such concept – feminist identity – is actually constructed and used in the routine talk of members of feminist organizations. In Part 3 we draw out the implications of a discursive approach to such terms for the feminist/postmodernist debate.
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