Essence of Culture and a Sense of History: A Feminist Critique of Cultural Essentialism

Hypatia A Journal of Feminist Philosophy (Impact Factor: 0.25). 04/1998; 13(2):86 - 106. DOI: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.1998.tb01227.x

ABSTRACT Drawing parallels between gender essentialism and cultural essentialism, I point to some common features of essentialist pictures of culture. 1 argue that cultural essentialism is detrimental to feminist agendas and suggest strategies for its avoidance, Contending that some forms of cultural relativism buy into essentialist notions of culture, I argue that postcolonial feminists need to be cautious about essentialist contrasts between “Western” and “Third World” cultures.

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    • "I build on post-colonialist work that questions the ethical and epistemological superiority of the stance that theory developed in the North should not be used in the South (Dixon 2004; Mbembe 2001; Narayan 2009; Sitas 2006). Framing Africa as primarily different from the Global North is as ethnocentric and imperialist as assuming sameness (Narayan 2009), and effectively excludes Africa from the remit of social science, exempting power relations there from theoretical analysis (Mbembe 2001; Sitas 2006). Rather than assume that all or no " Western " theory applies to Africa, this article " loots the conceptual toolbox " (Dixon 2004) for theories that help to make sense of social phenomena, letting resonance with local data and context guide the choice of theory. "
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    ABSTRACT: Violence is often considered gendered on the basis that it is violence against women. This assumption is evident both in “gender-based violence” interventions in Africa and in the argument that gender is irrelevant if violence is also perpetrated against men. This article examines the relation of partner violence not to biological sex, but to gender as conceptualized in feminist theory. It theorizes the role of gender as an analytical category in dominant social meanings of “wifebeating” in Tanzania by analyzing arguments for and against wife-beating expressed in 27 focus group discussions in the Arumeru and Kigoma-Vijijini districts. The normative ideal of a “good beating” emerges from these data as one that is supported by dominant social norms and cyclically intertwined with “doing gender.” The author shows how the good beating supports, and is in turn supported by, norms that hold people accountable to their sex category. These hegemonic gender norms prescribe the performance of masculinity and femininity, power relations of inequality, and concrete material exploitation of women’s agricultural and domestic labor. The study has implications for policy and practice in interventions against violence, and suggests untapped potential in theoretically informed feminist research for understanding local power relations in the Global South.
    Gender &amp Society 04/2014; 28(4). DOI:10.1177/0891243214532311 · 2.41 Impact Factor
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    • "This emergence of new ideas is expressed in the notion of liminality (Narayan and Harding, 1998) in which 'normal' limits to thought, self-understanding, and behaviour are relaxed, leading to new perspectives. Whether viewed as 'border crossing' (Narayan and Harding, 1998) or a more 'dialectic' process of negotiating identities 'hard won', in Leila's words, there is movement towards new spaces where agency can be exerted, on her own terms. "
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    ABSTRACT: In this paper we use insights from postcolonial feminism to explore the identity narratives of three Muslim businesswomen of Turkish descent in the Netherlands. We identify some of the ways in which contemporary political discourse in the Netherlands constructs Muslim ‘Others’ and discuss how this discursive positioning impacts on the multiple identities these women create for themselves in response. Postcolonial feminism challenges the discursive and material relations of both patriarchy and Eurocentric feminisms, which work together to obscure the rich diversity of women's lived experiences, their agency and identities. By exploring how Othering impacts on these women's multiple identities, we aim to enrich understandings of women's migrant entrepreneurship. These identity narratives, shared by women who each describe quite different ways of experiencing, interpreting and responding to marginalization, shed light on the West's relationship to the Other and reveal some of the underlying relations of power that shape identity.
    Gender Work and Organization 02/2014; 21(4). DOI:10.1111/gwao.12041 · 1.21 Impact Factor
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    • "Essentialism refers to the idea that the concept of e.g., the “Chinese” or the “Westerner” has its own real and discrete essence (Narayan, 1998). This view does not consider the historical and socio-political contexts in which such concepts are used. "
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    ABSTRACT: Within the emerging field of cultural neuroscience (CN) one branch of research focuses on the neural underpinnings of "individualistic/Western" vs. "collectivistic/Eastern" self-views. These studies uncritically adopt essentialist assumptions from classic cross-cultural research, mainly following the tradition of Markus and Kitayama (1991), into the domain of functional neuroimaging. In this perspective article we analyze recent publications and conference proceedings of the 18th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (2012) and problematize the essentialist and simplistic understanding of "culture" in these studies. Further, we argue against the binary structure of the drawn "cultural" comparisons and their underlying Eurocentrism. Finally we scrutinize whether valuations within the constructed binarities bear the risk of constructing and reproducing a postcolonial, orientalist argumentation pattern.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 06/2013; 7:289. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00289 · 2.90 Impact Factor
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