Article

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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    • "While recognitions of difference and the relevance of culture might be advanced in adversarial legal frameworks with progressive intent, such 'recognitions', if they may be so accurately called, are plagued with political and ethical ambivalence. Though they seek to acknowledge diverse moral frameworks which may influence or constrain the actions of individuals – frameworks presumed to be fundamentally different to the dominant normative context within which the law operates – cultural defences often fail to move beyond the reductive and objectifying projects of colonialism and conservative politics which presuppose the moral superiority of hegemonic Western cultures (Narayan 1998, 2000). Indeed, when the culture of Others is deployed as part of an explanation or as mitigation for abhorrent criminal acts, 'culture talk' functions to racialise (or 'culturalise') such acts while criminalising certain cultural groups (Humphrey 2007: 14). "
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    ABSTRACT: There is a rich body of work in critical race and feminist theories that have criticised as Euro/Anglo-centric, and hence exclusionary, the liberal foundations of Western democratic legal systems. The basis of such critiques is that legal personhood is premised on an atomistic individual agent that purports to be neutral but in actuality reflects and maintains the hegemonic gendered and raced status quo privileging the white, middle to upper-class man to the exclusion of women and all racial and cultural Others. Some approaches, such as cultural defences in criminal law, have sought to address this via a recognition and incorporation of the difference of Other groups and their different moral norms, proclivities and circumstances. To illustrate, this discussion will draw on a cultural defence that was advanced in a series of group sexual violence cases that involved four Pakistani, Muslim brothers. While concluding that culture permeates the actions of all individuals, this article seeks to show how cultural recognition approaches in law often overlook the individual agency of those differentiated through their racial, ethnic and religious visibility. Instead of asserting the primacy of individual free will and a rational agent as the main driver of criminal behaviour cultural defences, in particular, appear to attribute criminal action to the morally aberrant traditions and practices of non-Western cultures. At the same time, such approaches to cultural recognition fail to acknowledge that culture, and not just the culture of Others, is necessarily the backdrop for all (group) sexual violence. With these points in mind, the paper ends with some suggestions for accommodating alternative narratives that seek to avoid the reductive scripts that currently appear to characterise legal and judicial musings on culture.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015
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    • "Racialization arises from the politics of differences associated with race as a biological or social construct, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and social class. We rely upon a postcolonial definition of non-western peoples, yet we remain aware of the risks of gendered and cultural essentialism raised by the use of this definition (Narayan, 2000). We may prudently affirm that people of colour and indigenous peoples have been exposed to colonization, neocolonization, and violations of human rights (Davidson and Carr, 2010), while recognizing that violation of human rights also occur in western countries (King et al., 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Accepted for publication.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2015
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    • "Development is a political concern now to dominate Third World and separating them from others. The generalization that Third World people are homogeneous was based on cultural essentialism which predicted that all Third World countries belong to the same culture[36]. This perception limited the intention of development activities in Third World as local need perspectives were untouched. "

    Full-text · Article · Jan 2015
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