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From morality to politics and back again: feminist international ethics and the civil-society argument.

Feminist ethics is a branch of moral philosophy. Its concerns range across meta-ethics (the question of how feminist moral principles and values may be grounded or legitimated), moral theory (the articulation of substantive feminist moral principles and values), and applied ethics (the application of feminist moral principles and values to specific areas of practice such as health, education, reproduction, war, and so forth). (1) Yet although it is a branch of moral philosophy, there is a sense in which feminist ethics has always unsettled and subverted the morality/politics binary that helps to define the business of modern moral philosophy in the Western academy.

According to this mainstream thinking (reflected also in much commonsense usage) morality may ground, orient, or be applied as a corrective to politics, but nevertheless a clear line is (must be) drawn between them. (2) Morality is defined as being about values and principles that transcend the particularities of any specific human life, whereas politics is about the struggles and negotiations through which those particularities are constructed, sustained, challenged, and managed. The subversion of this binary takes different forms in different strands of feminist ethics. But one common thread that runs through all feminist ethics is the argument that the moral theories, religious and philosophical, that have dominated thinking about morality from ancient times to modernity in the West are fundamentally political in one key sense. All of them purport to be the revelation of God or outcome of reason (or both), but all of them turn out, in whole or in part, to be about the reflection and maintenance of relations of power in which women are systematically oppressed, excluded, and silenced.

However, feminist ethicists differ in the extent to which they interpret the latter as a problem in principle or in application and in the extent to which they turn the same skeptical eye upon their own moral discourse. (3) As a result of this, ongoing debates within feminist ethics have been less to do with the substantive accounts of justice and the good on offer and more to do with the question of whether feminist claims about justice and the good have any authoritative foundation or can achieve universal reach across different women in different times and places.

For feminist critics of moral universalism, feminist ethics risks assimilating and/or silencing different women, thus reproducing the same oppressive politics as the patriarchal mainstream in which morality operates as a mask for power. For feminist universalists, their critics risk reducing morality to politics in the sense of making all moral claims contingent on specificities of power and culture and thereby losing the possibility of making the moral critique of women's oppression that is needed to underpin feminism as a political project.

Within the context of feminism as a transnational movement, which reaches across barriers of state and culture, the question of authoritative foundation and universal reach for the claims of feminist ethics is particularly salient. For example, most feminist ethics in the Western tradition has tended to focus either on abstract meta-ethical issues or on the application of feminist insights to issues that particularly affect women within Western liberal states. (4) Even where specifically international contexts or issues are in question (e.g., global distributive justice, human rights, and war) there has been a tendency to take an ethical position worked out in relation to the context of a Western liberal state and apply it to the international domain. (5) This tendency has increasingly become subject to challenge by non-Western feminists, who argue for the irrelevance or inapplicability of the concerns of Western feminist ethics to the lives and experiences of women in nonliberal states and/or non-Judeo-Christian cultures. (6)

In this article, my concern is with a response to the feminist dilemma between moral universalism and moral pluralism--a response that appears to offer a particularly promising route forward for a feminist ethics that is specifically concerned with international, transnational, or global political contexts and issues. This development is labeled in various ways--as a turn to discourse ethics, communicative ethics, or dialogic ethics. In this article, I use the term civil-society argument because this development in feminist theory involves the invocation of the importance of the norms inherent in actual communicative activity within public spheres distinct from the state. In the case of feminist ethics, this means that there is a focus is on how the voices of women, who occupy very different positions within hegemonic and subaltern publics within global civil society, may be heard and exert influence in the articulation and legitimation of feminist moral principles and values. (7)

The path of discourse ethics as a way of dealing with dilemmas of difference (both vertical and horizontal) without assimilation is one which many feminist theorists, working in a broadly critical-theory tradition, have taken in recent years. (8) This path is one that moves from the ground of philosophical ethics, in which questions of moral truth and prescription can be addressed in the realm of reason alone, toward politics, the realm of practical dialogue, and contestation, of groups with competing interests, of institutions and unequally situated actors.

The civil-society argument claims the central importance both of the concrete identity of moral agents and of the public dialogic encounter between different moral agents both to doing or attaining and to unpacking the meaning of justice and the good, whether in terms of principle, norm, virtue, or policy. The civil-society argument appears to offer the possibility of a meaningful feminist international ethics that is not inherently assimilative but that also does not simply collapse into moral pluralism in which there is no common vocabulary within which feminist conceptions of justice and the good may be articulated. The aim of this article is to assess whether some version of a civil-society argument does offer a useful way forward for feminist international ethics. (9)

In order to assess the potential for feminist ethics of the civil-society argument, I draw, respectively, on the work of Seyla Benhabib, Iris Marion Young, and Gayatri Spivak. (10) These three thinkers share ground in important respects: Each of them rejects the idea that there are strong apolitical (rational or essential) foundations for normative judgment; and each of them rejects (or at least purports to reject) what Young terms the assimilationism of liberalism, in which differences of power, culture, and identity are bracketed out of dialogic exchange through assumptions of formal civil and political equality. Following on from this, each of them pursues their moral vision in relation to the unassimilability of difference within actual institutional contexts of political engagement and contestation and hold out for the possibility of moral and political transformation through encounter with others. Each of them also explicitly draws out her argument to the level of the global, though it is only Spivak whose argument in some sense starts from a specifically transnational political context.

Having said this, however, it must also be said that the three thinkers are also different in important respects. Benhabib is the thinker who stays closest to Habermasian discourse ethics and to the insistence on a clear and hierarchical distinction between morality and politics. Young sees the politics of difference as cutting more deeply than Benhabib and threatens to reverse the traditional hierarchy by giving priority to politics in her discursive ideal. At the same time, however, Young stays close to Benhabib and to the legacy of Habermasian discourse ethics in modeling her discursive ideal in terms of a particular kind of dialogue, underpinned by egalitarian norms. In Spivak's case, although the notion of a reciprocal encounter between different subjects remains crucial to her articulation of morality as ethical singularity, the notion of egalitarian dialogue as the model for this encounter is put into question.

On the basis of my exploration of the arguments of these three theorists, I argue that Spivak's critique of the civil-society argument in the work of thinkers such as Benhabib and Young offers the best guide to conceiving what it means to make moral claims as a feminist in cross-cultural and transnational contexts. The proponents of the civil-society argument, as anti-essentialist moral and political theorists, rethink traditional moral philosophical conceptions of morality and politics and the relation between them. In doing so, however, they fail to capture the dynamic of a secular moral relation that emerges out of encounters with others without reference to any substantive, transcendental, or teleological anchor in a 'beyond.' (11)

The problem, I suggest, has to do with the foregrounding of a dialogic ideal in which equality (substantively and in terms of respect) and equality of participation (self-determination) are the keynotes. The discourses and practices of education and of imaginative invention--which are invoked by all three thinkers, but are central only to Spivak's account--tell us more about the logic of morality than those of dialogic exchange. Both learning and invention are inegalitarian and undemocratic activities. Feminist international ethics, as a discourse about the meaning of morality and about how we may make moral claims as a feminist across the boundaries of state and culture, exceeds principles of universal respect or egalitarian reciprocity and is irreducible to a dialogical relation between different women. Rather, it depends on the ultimately unjustifiable acknowledgment and invention of moral authority, a moral authority that may or may not be recognized by those to whom, or on behalf of whom, moral claims are addressed.

Egalitarian Reciprocity

In her recent book The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era, (12) Benhabib applies her argument for a moderated form of Habermasian discourse ethics (previously articulated in Situating the Self) (13) to the claims of multiculturalism for respect for cultural difference within and across political communities. She argues against strong pluralist responses to the claims of culture, in which different rights are assigned on the basis of cultural membership either within a given state or through secession, and for a deliberative democratic solution to the accommodation of difference, both within liberal democratic states and more broadly across the global arena, wherever discursive (which is to say, moral) community forms. (14) Although Benhabib is not primarily concerned with gender or feminism in this text, the position of women is frequently evoked as a warning against strong multiculturalist claims for group rights and as a reminder of the importance of universal human rights and equal membership of the deliberative polity for feminist conceptions of justice and the good. (15)

Benhabib's argument relies on three main planks. The first is an essentially sociological argument for the looseness and hybridity of cultures, backed up by an epistemological case against the idea of radical incommensurability. Benhabib uses this to sustain her position against radical pluralist responses to the moral claims of different cultures. (16) Her positive case for inclusive deliberative democracy depends on the further two planks of what she terms "weak transcendentalism" and "historically enlightened universalism," respectively. (17) The term weak transcendentalism refers to necessary constraints on the form that justificatory strategies underpinning rational agreement about normative claims may take (in accordance with the conditions on communicative reason as explored by Habermas and Apel). (18) These conditions are interpreted by Benhabib as "universal respect" and "egalitarian reciprocity," in which all participants in the dialogue are accorded equal rights of participation and all are committed to understanding from the other's point of view. (19) The term historically enlightened universalism refers to the processes of moral learning ("through commerce as well as wars; international agreements as well as international threats") through which individuals and groups come to appreciate (or at least accept) the superiority of the norms of universal respect and egalitarian reciprocity that are inseparable from communicative reason. (20) "It is in the public sphere, situated within civil society, that multicultural struggles have their place, and that political and moral learning and value transformation occur." (21)

For Benhabib, the relation between moral theory (articulating the principles inherent in and norms deriving from the discursive ideal), political theory (the reconstructive science that attempts to embody those norms in a blueprint for the polity--or potentially between and across polities--and establish criteria for judgment of actual political arrangements) and practical politics is clearly hierarchical. Nevertheless, the civil-society argument, which apparently reverses the relation between politics, political theory, and moral theory, is crucial to her account because of the extent to which she departs from Habermas in emphasizing the importance of real dialogue between "concrete," and not only "generalized," others, in working through the implications of universal respect and egalitarian reciprocity. This is a major theme of her earlier work in Situating the Self, (22) and she returns to it again in The Claims of Culture, insisting that awareness of the "otherness of others" can come about only through exposure to their unfamiliar narratives of self-identification. (23)

This awareness is bound up with the subjects' ability to put themselves in another's place, see from their point of view, and therefore enlarge their mentality in the business of moral judgment and prescription. (24) What follows from Benhabib's argument in relation to feminist morality across cultures and states is that it must take the form of a "pluralistically enlightened ethical universalism." (25) Feminist actors in different places and radically different cultures and positions of power must accept dialogue, under principles of universal respect and egalitarian reciprocity, as the means to articulate and legitimate conceptions of justice and the good and the principles and norms that follow from them.

Benhabib makes actual dialogue central to morality, and in doing so disturbs the customary relation between morality and politics. Thus, she offers a resolution of the tension between pluralist and universalist feminisms mentioned above, by holding out the possibility of a transnational feminist moral community, which is formed through giving voice to all perspectives in moral and political debate. However, critics of Benhabib's work have argued that her openness to difference in both moral and political theory is more dramatically constrained than she admits. (26)

This is clear both from the conditions on how participants in dialogue may participate and from constraints on the conclusions that it is open to participants to draw. In both cases, the principles of universal respect and egalitarian reciprocity rule out certain kind of identities/groups and certain kinds of arguments in civil society in advance. (27) So that, for instance, it is clearly the case that certain moral judgments in the name of feminism must be possible in the light of the conditions of dialogue. By definition, it would not be possible for participants to find themselves unable to agree on the principle of equal rights for women, though they might differ as to how that principle should be applied. It therefore seems that morality constrains or conditions politics, rather than vice versa, a point Benhabib herself underlines in her insistence on drawing a clear distinction between moral and political discourses and moral and political community and in giving priority to the former over the latter. (28)

In an essay written in response to Benhabib's earlier arguments in Situating the Self, Young takes issue, in a rather different way, with Benhabib's elaboration of the discursive ethical ideal. (29) Although Young endorses Benhabib's argument for the rethinking of the public sphere in a way which accommodates the concrete as well as the generalized other, Young sees her as making a mistake in identifying universal respect and egalitarian reciprocity with symmetry and reversibility of perspective. (30) For Young, this implies a tendency to assimilate difference to sameness, by always assuming that the other's point of view will be intelligible in the self's own terms. Instead, Young calls for a "taking account" of others' perspectives and the relations between them, without assuming the possibility of seeing things from the other's point of view:
    It is more appropriate to approach a situation of communicative
    interaction for the purpose of arriving at a moral or political
    judgement with a stance of moral humility. In moral humility one
    starts with the assumption that one cannot see things from the other
    person's perspective and waits to learn by listening to the other
    person to what extent they have had similar experiences. (31)

Young's account of "communication" substitutes the model of the gift relation and the idea of asymmetrical reciprocity for the relation of equal exchange and symmetrical reciprocity that she identifies in Benhabib's (following Habermas's) account of "discourse." (32) Young stresses that communication may be a creative process "in which the other person offers a new expression, and I understand it not because I am looking for how it fits with given paradigms, but because I am open and suspend my assumptions in order to listen." (33) Young's argument suggests that Benhabib's civil-society argument is based on an unnecessarily constricted model of dialogue, not so much because of its moralization of politics, (34) but because it makes overly strong assumptions about the reversibility of position and perspective of participants in the public realm and thereby misunderstands the politics of moral engagement itself. If the first set of objections to Benhabib suggest that her conception of dialogue within the public sphere amounts to an overly moralized account of politics, Young's argument here suggests that the moral relation inherent in the discursive ideal should have a rather different politics to it than the essentially liberal egalitarianism that characterizes Benhabib's account. Young proposes instead a more radically democratic account of the discursive ideal; that is to say, a version of the civil-society argument, in which the emphasis in the discursive ideal shifts from universalist equality to a more pluralist conception of democracy. (35)

The Politics of Difference

Young is part of the generation of U.S. feminist thinkers who have successively absorbed the lessons both of the cultural critique of liberal feminism and the lesbian and black feminist critique of cultural and liberal feminisms. (36) As with Benhabib, her notion of identity is nonessentialist; she does not presume that gendered identity is the same for all women, and her aim is to encompass both equality and difference as inseparable elements in a broad theory of justice that addresses feminist and multiculturalist concerns. In her two major works on justice and democracy, Justice and the Politics of Difference and Inclusion and Democracy (37) (hereafter, ID), (38) Young bases her argument on an eclectic critical theory that is socially and historically situated rather than rationally derived from first principles. (39) She borrows from a variety of sources, including thinkers as diverse as Rawls and Derrida, and draws on ideas from feminist, multiculturalist, and democratic theory. An increasingly important element in her arguments is her reliance on a version of discourse ethics. It is the commitment to what she terms communicative ethics that grounds her claim that justice requires democracy, not simply in the sense of representative liberal-democratic institutions, but in the sense of active participation in deliberation about principles and norms by all those who will be affected by them (communicative democracy).

However, although Young argues for the centrality of communication to both justice and democracy, she takes issue with conceptions of deliberation developed in the ideas of thinkers such as Habermas and Cohen. Such conceptions are, Young argues, overly abstract and exclusive of subordinated and marginalized groups within society who may not possess the education and vocabulary required for abstract argument or who may draw on alternative, culturally located, ways of getting their message across. (40) As we saw above, she is also suspicious of Benhabib's attempt to incorporate the concrete other in her discursive ideal--again because it is in danger of unwittingly excluding perspectives that are not easily translatable into the frame of reference of others.

Young consistently stresses the importance of actual dialogue and the need to allow for a multiplicity of ways of articulating and communicating ideas and interests. Only in this manner will deliberative mechanisms be genuinely inclusive. (41) At the same time, however, Young holds onto Habermas's and Benhabib's view that communication (the term she prefers to discourse) is in principle a reciprocal process and has certain normative ideals embedded within it. (42) These are the ideals of equality and mutual respect, which actual communication both embodies and strives for. (43) They are also, following the Habermasian distinction that Benhabib also endorses, defined in opposition to the coercive norms inherent in strategic or functional rationality. (44)

The distinction between communicative and strategic rationality becomes particularly central to Young's argument in ID, in which civil society becomes the key locus for resistance to oppression and domination within the liberal-capitalist state. (45) At the same time, however, Young does not unequivocally identify public activity within civil society with the ideals inherent in communicative reason. She acknowledges the significance of material inequalities within civil society, which means that some voices in public discourse will be louder than others; and also the fact that civil-society movements may themselves be exclusive or mutually contradictory in their values and goals. (46)

For this reason, she acknowledges a role for state power as a counter to both economic power and exclusivities within civil society itself. It would appear therefore that Young offers a more highly politicized, less idealized version of the civil-society argument than does Benhabib, and one that operates with a less clear-cut distinction between morality and politics. A flourishing civil society is a crucial part of the conditions for actual dialogue and negotiation between different groups; in particular, it is the way that disadvantaged groups are able to recruit their strength and enter into political contestation over what a properly just society actually means. One cannot therefore divorce the political conditions of possibility for civil society from the discursive moral ideal, even to the extent that Benhabib suggests might be possible.

Given this, and in the light of Young's skepticism about the reversibility of perspectives in public dialogue, as well as her acknowledgment of the role of coercive power in civil society, one would expect communication within civil society to be fraught with difficulty. Issues of mutual intelligibility (in principle) and mutual distrust (in practice) would appear to be implicit in her account. However, one of the striking things in Young's discussion in ID is how the differences, in terms of identity and power, between different civil-society actors are not given much weight in the argument. The account given of civil-society activity is surprisingly benign and optimistic, and the outcome of civil-society activity appears to be less radically pluralist in either moral or political terms than one would expect. Why is this the case?

On examination, it becomes clear that Young's argument relies on the idea that the (very different) powers of communicative reason and the state act in concert to enable dialogue within civil society. In spite of her earlier argument contra Benhabib, in ID the role of communicative reason acts to defuse, rather than to underline, potential moral conflicts between the identities and values of different civil-society actors. To the extent that the egalitarian presuppositions of communication fail to operate to discipline what can be expressed and how, the power of communicative reason is supplemented by the state, which also works as an equalizing power in relation to civil society. It does this both through its ability to address economic inequality and its ability to limit the range of actions open to civil-society actors in relation to each other (for instance, legislating against "hate speech" or to permit abortion).

But perhaps most importantly of all, in spite of the insistence on the importance of not assuming a single model for rational discourse in Young's work, it is clear that there is (and has to be) a common language (even if not a common mode of expression) for the political dialogue that civil society enables. This is because communicative reason, which underpins civil-society activity, is defined in terms of its opposition to the forces of oppression and domination. (47) In the case of the former, civil-society activists must address the state as a counterbalance to economic power; in the case of the latter, the state is the key antagonist for civil-society actors. The relations (potential conflicts and mutual unintelligibility) between different publics within the state become subsumed in their common relation to the state. For Young, within the context of the state the moral and the political are entwined, and, to the extent to which the state is grounded in principles of equality and self-determination (i.e., is a moral state), they are mutually reinforcing. When Young shifts her argument from the state to the transnational or global arena and introduces the notion of global civil-society activity, there is no state to call upon, but a similar role is played by the emerging institutions of global governance. (48)

Since global civil society is not tied to a state and therefore, one would assume, is more dependent on the norms inherent in communicative reason, one would expect the asymmetries Young identifies as crucial to the moral encounter to make moral discourse and agreement more difficult than in civil society within the context of the state. However this is not the case. Instead, Young relies on an analogy between the context of the liberal state, in which different cultural or other groups demand recognition, and international society, in which a liberal human-rights regime provides a shared vocabulary for political engagement between essentially self-determining political communities. (49) Difference is presumed to prevail at the level of application, rather than at the level of principle. (50)
    As I understand their protests, those nations and groups in the
    world today who question the application of existing human rights
    covenants to their context do not reject general principles of human
    rights. They argue that the particular formulations of those rights
    applied today were developed largely by Western powers, and that in
    these changed times these formulations should be subject to review
    in a process that includes them. (51)

In this way, Young effectively depoliticizes the moral vocabulary utilized by civil-society actors in the international and global sphere, treating it as a given, rather than an outcome reflecting and reinforcing particular relations of power. In spite of her skepticism about the commensurability of claims put forward in the public sphere, her conclusions are translatable to the global only at the price of an unacknowledged but high degree of assimilation, in which communicative reason in effect is identified with the hegemonic discourses of liberalism within the global order. Feminist discursive ethics in the global context, on this reading, becomes very like Benhabib's moral community in which equality of voice is married to very clear assumptions about what may count as moral in the first place. The possibility of moral pluralism, with which Young's critique of Benhabib begins, turns out to be a priori constrained in a way similar to that in which Benhabib constrains that which may count as falling within the moral sphere.

For Benhabib, morality and politics are distinct practices and discourses. For her, morality is the exclusive domain of discourse oriented to agreement by all those who may be affected by the outcome and is inclusive in principle of all humanity. Politics, by contrast, is the domain of mixed discourses, in which morality, ethics, technical-strategic reasoning, and the aesthetic may all play a part, and there is no guarantee of morality triumphing, even though it ought to do so. Moreover, the scope of politics is constrained by the boundaries, and therefore the particularity, of the political community. (52) From this point of view, Young's project, insofar as it seeks to ground her moral vision immanently within politics is fundamentally mistaken. For Young, on the other hand, Benhabib's separation of morality from politics risks the assimilation of difference through an assumption of the essential symmetricality of the human moral encounter, thus failing to do justice to the nature of either morality or politics. On Young's view, both morality and politics are located in actual human interaction and marked by differences of both a horizontal and vertical kind that may or may not be bridgeable. And yet, in the working through of the arguments of these two thinkers, the similarities between them become more striking than the differences. In both cases, the civil-society argument confirms moral universalism of a specifically liberal kind.

Both Benhabib and Young argue for a connection in principle and practice between justice and democracy. Their moral ideal requires politics, but, more than this, it takes the form of a particular mode of political relation between self-determining equals. Any dialogic ethics has to give an account of how speaking and listening in the appropriate mode are possible. For both thinkers, the norms of equality and mutual respect underpin this speaking and listening and the possibility of morally educative and creative encounters with others. (53)

In the above discussion, I have suggested that there are tensions internal to this kind of civil-society argument. These manifest themselves both in principle and in application. In principle, they are evident in the mismatch between the radical openness and inclusiveness of the dialogic exchange and its simultaneous dependence on specific closure both in relation to the terms in which the debate may be conducted and in the a priori delegitimation of certain discourses and points of view. (54) In application, the applying of discourse ethics to particular issues such as multiculturalism or human rights introduces a tension between the egalitarian ideal and the forces of historical development or state power on which Benhabib and Young rely, respectively, to enforce that egalitarian ideal. This latter tendency points toward the reinstatement of a morality/politics distinction, in which the discursive ideal becomes identified with a utopian future to which politics should be subordinated.

In my view, however, it is not the implied return of the morality/politics distinction, nor the utopianism inherent in these versions of dialogic ethics, that makes them inadequate for the purposes of a feminist international ethics. It would be difficult for any feminist to disagree with the diagnosis that contemporary politics is less than ideal or that one might need to rely on less than ideal methods to change the world for the better. Rather, the difficulty lies in the identification of morality with a politics of democratic exchange. Both Benhabib and Young obfuscate the way in which their arguments rely on an assertion of moral authority that is logically prior to the discursive model in which moral authority is claimed to inhere. This authority, like the Rousseauian legislator, sets certain standards that are nonnegotiable, however inclusive or democratic the diaglogic encounter might be. In the case of both thinkers, I would argue that not democracy but a commitment to equality is the moral touchstone, and that this sets the parameters for moral disagreement.

My purpose is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with this, but it is to suggest that in invoking the discursive ideal Benhabib and Young misrepresent what their own moral commitment to equality means, and, more importantly, what this means for their encounters with others within the culturally diverse and inegalitarian context of public discourse in global civil society.

Morality and Globality
    Ethical singularity is approached when responses flow from both
    sides. Otherwise, the idea that if the person I am doing good to
    resembles me and has my rights, he or she will be better off, does
    not begin to approach an ethical relation (nor, of course, does an
    attitude of unqualified admiration for the person as an example of
    his or her culture). (55)

Spivak shares with Benhabib and Young their concern to refuse the choice between assimilative universalisms and the moral pluralism in which cultural difference is reified and the possibility of moral judgment and prescription across boundaries of power and identity are denied. In other respects, however, her work is rooted in different philosophical traditions and immediate normative concerns. Although there are common reference points between the three thinkers, Spivak's strongest theoretical influences are from Derridean deconstruction and postcolonial thought, as opposed to the important role played by Habermasian critical theory for both Benhabib and Young.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Spivak's account of moral engagement and encounter takes a different form to the Habermasian dialogic ideal. In addition, where both Benhabib and Young begin their civil-society arguments in the context of the multicultural liberal state and then extend them to the global sphere, Spivak's civil-society argument emerges directly out of her engagement in global civil society, in particular with the transnational feminist movement and the work of feminist INGOs. Within this context she is profoundly critical of the kinds of developments in global civil society that for Benhabib and Young are seen as realizing the norms inherent in communicative reason and presaging the democratization of global governance. (56)

Spivak is particularly concerned with issues of development, population control, and ecology. According to her, much of this work, however well-meaning, actually involves the silencing of resistant subaltern publics and the appropriation of the rhetoric of that resistance by hegemonic publics. (57) Subaltern publics include local women's or feminist movements located in the rural South, whereas hegemonic publics are typified by Northern and/or metropolitan feminist activists, who occupy privileged and mobile positions within the global political economy. For Spivak, the issue is not necessarily to do with the policy aims of many global civil-society movements, working to improve public health, sanitation, education, or environmental sustainability. Rather, she takes issue with the way in which these goals are envisaged and pursued within an ideology of paternalism ('and alas increasingly sororalism') in which wisdom is seen to flow exclusively in one direction and to be able to be formulated within only one vocabulary. (58)

The vocabulary of development is necessarily tied to a view that the "un- or underdeveloped," the "less developed," or "developing" are somehow "behind" their "developed" counterparts. Whether one explains this through essentialist arguments about national inferiorities, modernization arguments about the lack of capitalist market relations, or liberal-democratic law or Marxist arguments about colonial exploitation is irrelevant to the fact that in all of these cases it is the history of the liberal-capitalist states that sets the agenda and the vocabulary in which problems of poverty, infant mortality, poor housing, environmental sustainability, and so on are to be addressed. More importantly, perhaps, it is the liberal-capitalist states that set the institutional context within which global civil-society movements operate.

The same disciplining effects that the state has on its domestic publics in civil society on Young's account are, according to Spivak, perpetuated through the great intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and their various development programs. Interests and ideas of global civil-society publics are obliged to be articulated in terms of the values that dominate those organizations, and so are the debates that go on within and between those publics, such as the debates over population control between different women's and feminist groups at international policy conferences or the debates on feminist ethics and issues such as women's rights to bodily integrity in academic conferences.

For Benhabib and Young, the dominance of a liberal rights vocabulary is a sign of progress in the sphere of international politics. Benhabib in particular, associates these developments with the moral learning that emerges historically from less morally advanced cultures encountering those that are more morally advanced. (59) For Spivak, however, the dominance of the liberal vocabulary underlines the degree to which equality of exchange between those she identifies as the global 'subalterns' and the hegemonic publics of global civil society is impossible. The difficulties of dialogue are exacerbated not simply by differences in power but by the degree of exclusiveness and the inextricability from power relations of the language through which attempts at dialogue are conducted.

One possible response to this might be to abandon the idea of communication under the heading of "global" altogether, which would imply the abandonment of the project of a feminist international ethics. Instead, however, Spivak offers a different kind of civil-society argument, in which the politics of actual engagement with others remains crucial, but in which egalitarian dialogue is no longer the form through which that engagement and the moral implications that follow from it are to be understood.

In order to make this argument, Spivak draws on vocabularies that also play a part in Benhabib's and Young's arguments, though of a much less central kind; that is, the vocabularies of education and invention, respectively. (60) My account of Spivak's argument puts together two distinct ideas that appear in different places in her work when grappling with the question of feminist morality in a transnational context. They are both ideas that she formulates in relation to her experience of working with aboriginal women in India, who are, she suggests, her "other" from the point of view of their multiple exclusion from the world she inhabits as a metropolitan feminist. The first idea is the notion of "learning to learn"; the second is the idea of poesis (imaginative making).
    This learning can only be attempted through the supplementation of
    collective effort by love. What deserves the name of love is an
    effort--over which one has no control yet at which one must not
    strain--that is slow, attentive on both sides (How does one win the
    attention of the subaltern without coercion or crisis?), mind
    changing on both sides, at the possibility of an unascertainable
    ethical singularity that is not ever a sustainable condition. The
    necessary collective efforts are to change laws, relations of
    production, systems of education and health care. But without the
    mind-changing one-to-one responsible contact, nothing will
    stick. (61)

The notion of learning to learn reflects Spivak's view of the need for metropolitan feminists to put into question not only their own moral convictions but also their assumptions about how one grasps and is able to debate the moral convictions of subaltern others. The point of doubling the reference to learning is to indicate how the moral encounter with others goes beyond anything that may be easily spoken or equally exchanged. Spivak's notion of learning to learn in the context of global politics is one that stresses not the acquisition of information or even understanding, but an attentiveness and openness in relation to the other through which both self and other may be transformed.

This is similar to the point made by Young in critique of Benhabib's overly symmetrical account of the discursive ideal. However, Spivak goes further than Young in building into the politics of the moral relation not only asymmetry and the difficulties of mutual intelligibility but also an inherently unequal, though clearly still reciprocal, dynamic. Benhabib and Young also speak of the moral encounter as offering the possibility of mutual transformation. In their cases, however, the encounter is modeled according to a particular kind of dialogue, in which communicative reason enables the relation between morality and the nondialogic to be dialogically recuperable. (62)

The point for Spivak is that before it is possible to get into a position in which feminists may engage in the recursive validation of moral norms in a process of dialogic exchange, some form of moral authority has to be exercised and acknowledged. This authority cannot be captured or validated in terms of an egalitarian discursive ideal since that very ideal is premised on the denial of the one-sidedness on which it depends. According to Spivak, within current transnational feminist attempts to articulate moral goals and principles, a particular authority is imposed because the liberal-capitalist state is taken for granted as the source of the moral lessons that have been learned. (63)

Learning to learn is about being open to learn other sorts of moral lessons. What is involved, however, is always education, an inherently illiberal and undemocratic mode of encounter, in which both teacher and pupil may be transformed, but from radically unequal positions of power, and therefore always in different (not necessarily contradictory) ways. In the context of feminist international ethics, Spivak's argument suggests not a need for dialogue in which all voices are heard equally, but a need for silence and openness to learning on the part of privileged feminist actors. It is through this kind of process that it may be possible to generate a vocabulary for debate with terms other than those of the hegemonic feminist publics within global civil society. This is not to say, however, that this entails passivity on the part of privileged feminist actors. In order for this learning to be possible, effort has to be put into working out how to be silent and how to listen: both in the sense of resisting the rush to judgment by privileged feminist actors and in the sense of enabling spaces in which feminist subaltern counterpublics can speak and be heard within global civil society.

However, there is something profoundly unsatisfactory about the argument that silence replace dialogue as the model for feminist moral engagement across transnational boundaries. The attraction of the dialogic ideal was that it appeared to be both non-assimilative and morally robust, enabling authoritative intervention on behalf of feminist conceptions of justice and the good. Spivak's argument about moral learning seems more likely to lead back toward moral pluralism and the kind of "unqualified admiration of the person as an example of his or her culture" of which she herself is critical. (64) Moreover, to the extent that privileged feminist actors have the capacity to bring about change, then to lock them into silence seems to make the amelioration of what Spivak herself clearly identifies as acutely oppressive conditions for subaltern women less likely.

Spivak is therefore caught within the familiar feminist dilemma in which a strong sense of the recognition of injustice is at odds with an equally strong sense that the application of justice to women in general is inevitably assimilative in a way that is also inherently unjust. For Benhabib and Young, dialogue construed in egalitarian terms provides the way out of this dilemma. But as is clear from the above discussion, Spivak is suspicious of any model of dialogue that assumes, even as a regulative ideal, the possibility of equal exchange and transparency of meaning. Her response to the dilemma is therefore to introduce poesis as the complement to the model of the moral encounter as that of 'learning to learn'. (65) Poesis refers to the capacity of imaginative making or invention, in which claims made gain their authority not from a prior grounding in transcendent principles or a justificatory strategy but in the ways in which they are read by, and have meaning for, others. In Spivak's account, poesis is not simply something in which it is possible to engage; it is a moral responsibility required of the metropolitan feminist activist.

We gain some insight into what this means in her critique of Foucault and Deleuze in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, where she castigates these two politically engaged intellectuals for their refusal to speak on behalf of the subaltern. (66) At first sight, this is profoundly puzzling, since it would seem that the idea of learning to learn is precisely about not assuming that the privileged political actor may speak on behalf of the nonprivileged political actor. Surely Spivak should agree with Foucault and Deleuze in their unwillingness to see themselves as representing subaltern others? But Spivak argues that in fact this unwillingness produces a false "transparency" or disengagement from power in the position of the critical theorist, and effectively contributes to the silencing of the subaltern. "One responsibility of the critic might be to read and write so that the impossibility of such interested individualistic refusals of the institutional privileges of power bestowed on the subject is taken seriously." (67)

Spivak argues that Deleuze and Foucault both make the mistake of sliding together different senses of the term represent, and that in their anxiety to avoid "speaking for" the other, they evade their responsibility as theorists to challenge ideologically produced subject-positions and revert to a simplistic positivism in which the subaltern simply is in herself. (68) First of all, such a stance misrepresents, and indeed Spivak suggests romanticizes, the power that the subaltern has to speak for herself within the global community. Secondly, and as importantly, this refusal to speak denies the ways in which the critic is implicated in and benefits from the power relations within which the subaltern is oppressed. (69)

To refuse to "re-present" the other is to block the self-understanding and the possibility of moral transformation of the critical theorist herself. The least that the critical theorist can do is to engage with what might be necessary to speak to the subaltern other, even while acknowledging that the capacity of the critic to capture the subaltern in her own terms will always be in question. For this to be done requires poesis; that is, "to imagine oneself in relationship to the other"--an effort of invention that depends on learning to learn, but that also always acknowledges the failure of transparency in any ethical communication. The moral outcome of communicative exchange between metropolitan and subaltern is "the breaking open of one's own national insularity." The supposition of communication is a call to justice that precedes and succeeds it. The communicative response to the call for justice will always do some injustice to someone somewhere, but to do nothing is to give up on justice altogether. "But a just world must entail normalization; the promise of justice must attend not only to the seduction of power, but also to the anguish that knowledge must suppress difference as well as differance, that a fully just world is impossible, forever deferred and different from our projections, the undecidable in the face of which we must risk the decision that we can hear the other." (70)

The time of globality for Spivak is one in which privileged feminist actors should learn to learn. But it is also a time to dare to speak to and for the plurality of different women (in terms of power and culture) across the globe. This speaking, however, claims authority without any guarantees, it can be redeemed only in an impossible future justice in which the subaltern is able to speak in her own terms.

There is no question that both Benhabib and Young would endorse Spivak's moral imperative for the critical theorist (in this case the privileged metropolitan feminist) to take on the responsibility to learn from and imagine subaltern others. Indeed, the practices of listening and imagination are a crucial element in the discursive ideals of both Young and Benhabib. Nevertheless, I would argue that Spivak's account of the meaning of this learning and imagining is more helpful for feminist international ethics than one that is subordinated to a conception of the moral encounter as an egalitarian dialogue.

The latter is misleading in two senses: first because it misrepresents morality in implying that it can be modeled in a way that avoids unredeemable, risky claims to moral authority. Secondly, because it fails to pay enough attention to the ways in which the use of the moral vocabulary of liberal universalism by metropolitan feminists reinforces the hierarchies of power between hegemonic and subaltern publics (even where both sets of publics are in unforced agreement).

Spivak puts forward a different option for a feminist international ethics--one that is also explicitly utopian in orientation but that attempts not to express that utopianism in terms that either include or exclude particular moral or political vocabularies in advance. However, in her work, rather than this leading to the invocation of the inseparability of justice and democracy as a regulative ideal, she suggests an alternative pathway for metropolitan feminists in which not equal exchange but radical self-questioning and imaginative making play primary and mutually dependent roles.

At the beginning of this article, it was suggested that the project of feminist ethics necessarily involves putting the relation between morality and politics into question. It was also suggested that a predominant concern within feminist ethics was to find an alternative to the ways of thinking about morality and politics inherent in the options of moral universalism and moral pluralism. What Spivak's argument suggests directly (and Benhabib's and Young's indirectly) is that there is a level and quality of moral engagement that is logically prior to the ways in which moral claims might be grounded or their scope determined. The true strength of the civil-society argument is the way in which it focuses our attention on how such engagement is possible.


1. Since the publication of Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), which made the famous argument that women approach moral reasoning differently from men, the literature in feminist ethics has burgeoned. A useful brief introduction to the field is Elisabeth Porter, Feminist Perspectives on Ethics (London: Longman, 1999). See also Elizabeth Frazer, Jennifer Hornsby, and Sabina Lovibond, eds., Ethics: A Feminist Reader (Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 1992); and Eve Browning Cole and Susan Coultrap-McQuin, eds., Explorations in Feminist Ethics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

2. As I argue elsewhere, this is a view common to both "idealist" and "realist" traditions in the study of international politics. See Kimberly Hutchings, International Political Theory (London: Sage Publications, 1999).

3. See Alison Jaggar, "Feminism in Ethics: Moral Justification," in Miranda Fricker and Jennifer Hornsby, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Feminism in Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

4. See, for example, Porter, note 1, in which the fields of application of feminist ethics are all located within the liberal state. They include health care, business, citizenship, sexuality, pornography, and reproduction.

5. For instance, Sarah Ruddick bases her argument for a global feminist pacifist ethic on the practices of mothering in a Western nuclear family. See Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace (London: Women's Press, 1989). Fiona Robinson extrapolates from Gilligan's ethic of care (formulated on the basis of research into U.S. students' decisions on abortion) in order to ground a globalized ethic of care. See Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory, and International Relations (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999).

6. See Chandra Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991); and Vivienne Jabri and Eleanor O'Gorman, eds., Women, Culture, and International Relations (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1999).

7. The terms public sphere and civil society are both highly contested within contemporary ethical and political-theory literatures. The former term owes much of its recent revival to Habermas's use of the concept as a crucial element of "lifeworld" in modernity, in which communicative rationality dominates over strategic or "system" concerns. See Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vols. 1, 2 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984; 1987); The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989); Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992). For Nancy Fraser's very useful critical engagement with Habermasian conceptions of the public sphere in the context of feminist concerns, from which I take the distinction between hegemonic and subaltern publics, see Fraser, "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," in Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere, mentioned above; and "Struggle over Needs: Outline of a Socialist-Feminist Critical Theory of Late Capitalist Political Culture," in Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989). See also Patricia Owen's article in this issue of Alternatives, "Xenophilia, Gender, and Sentimental Humanitarianism in the Official Public Sphere" for a critical account of how discourse within the public sphere may be constrained and distorted by hegemonic influences.

The meaning of the term civil society is notoriously hard to pin down, but its return to prominence in ethical and political theory owes much to the significance of civil-society movements in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s and to disillusionment with state-based democratic politics on the part of the Left in established Western liberal and social democracies since the 1970s. See John Keane, ed., Civil Society and the State: New European Perspectives (London: Verso, 1988); and Simone Chambers and Will Kymlicka, eds., Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). More recently a literature has grown up around the concept of "global civil society," in which INGOs and boundary-crossing social movements are often portrayed as the location for morally inspired (communicative) politics as opposed to the power politics of states and elites (strategic rationality). See Mary Kaldor Global Civil Society: An Answer to War (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2003); John Keane Global Civil Society? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); and Marlies Glasius, Mary Kaldor, and Helmut Anheier, eds., Global Civil Society 2002 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

In the case of both Seyla Benhabib and Iris Marion Young, whose civil-society arguments are discussed below, the Habermasian influence is very clear (though neither would embrace his dialogic model uncritically). They both make strong links between the idea of public discourse between nonstate actors and the norms inherent in communicative reason and, in Young's case, slip easily between the vocabularies of public sphere and civil society. Both argue strongly in their democratic theory for what Benhabib terms a "twin track" approach, in which civil-society activity within the public sphere acts in tandem with, and as a positive influence on, democratizing developments at the level of the state or of interstate governance. See Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

8. In this article, I focus on the work of Seyla Benhabib and Iris Marion Young. Other examples would include, most notably, Nancy Fraser (see Unruly Practices, note 7, and Justice Interruptus [London: Routledge, 1997]) and most of the contributors to the volume edited by Johanna Meehan, Feminists Read Habermas (New York: Routledge, 1995). Habermas's discourse ethics and the theory of deliberative democracy that follows from it have been a major inspiration for this feminist work. See Jurgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge: Polity, 1990) and Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996). See also Seyla Benhabib and Fred Dallmayr, eds., The Communicative Ethics Controversy (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1992).

9. I use the term feminist international ethics throughout this article to refer to the justification, articulation, and application of feminist moral norms across the boundaries of states.

10. The key works to which I refer are Seyla Benhabib, note 7; Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1992); Iris Marion Young, note 7; Young, "Asymmetrical Reciprocity: On Moral Respect, Wonder, and Enlarged Thought" and "Communication and the Other: Beyond Deliberative Democracy," both in Young, Intersecting Voices: Dilemmas of Gender, Political Philosophy, and Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 38-74; and Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); Gayatri Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999); Spivak, "Cultural Talks in the Hot Peace: Revisiting the 'Global Village,'" in Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, eds., Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); and "Gender and International Studies," Millenium 27, no. 4 (1998): 809-831.

11. My concern in this article is not with a critique of the conception of politics, as such, at work in Benhabib and Young, though there are clearly some parallels with some of my arguments here and those of critics (which would also include Young) of the moralization of politics in theories of deliberative democracy. See Chantal Mouffe, "Democracy, Power, and the 'Political,'" in Seyla Benhabib, ed., Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); and Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices, pp. 60-74. Here I focus on the inadequacies of the theorization of morality that is the other side of the coin of the democratic (political) theories of both Young and Benhabib, and my argument is specifically with the political terms (egalitarian liberal and democratic) in which the moral ideals of Benhabib and Young are articulated.

12. Benhabib, note 7.

13. Benhabib, note 10.

14. Benhabib, note 7, pp. 36-37.

15. Ibid., pp. 82-104.

16. Ibid., p. 4.

17. Ibid., p. 39.

18. See Benhabib and Dallmayr, note 7.

19. Ibid., p. 37.

20. Ibid., pp. 39, 107.

21. Ibid., p. 106.

22. Benhabib, note 10, pp. 148-177.

23. Benhabib, note 7, pp. 34-35.

24. Ibid., pp. 170-171; Benhabib, note 10, pp. 121-124.

25. Benhabib, note 7, p. 36.

26. See my development of this critique of Benhabib in Kimberly Hutchings, "Feminism, Universalism, and the Ethics of International Politics," in Jabri and O'Gorman, eds., note 6, pp. 17-37; and "Moral Deliberation and Political Judgement: Reflections on Benhabib's Interactive Universalism," Theory, Culture, and Society 14 (1997): 132-142.

27. Hutchings, note 26, pp. 140-141. Benhabib herself would deny this conclusion: she argues that discourse ethics is not closed to any specific content, in the way that more substantive (or "substitutionalist") moral theories are, and that this is its great strength. See Benhabib, note 7, pp. 13-14. However, although any opinion may be expressed in the process of "discursive validation," some opinions contradict the norms underpinning the discursive exchange (they entail a "performative contradiction" for anyone who has accepted those norms) and it becomes impossible for them to be taken seriously.

28. Benhabib, note 7, p. 147.

29. Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices.

30. Ibid., p. 41.

31. Ibid., p. 59.

32. Ibid., p. 50. Young draws on Levinas and Irigary in formulating her notion of "asymmetrical reciprocity," a move that, as we shall see below, is in interesting tension with the Habermasian elements in her conception of communicative ethics.

33. Ibid., p. 53.

34. Young is critical elsewhere of overly moralized conceptions of politics, as are other critics of an overrationalized account of deliberative democracy (see note 11, above), but this is not her key point here.

35. "Just because social life consists of plural experiences and perspectives, a theory of communicative ethics must endorse a radically democratic conception of moral and political judgment": Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices, p. 59.

36. Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, note 10, pp. 168-173.

37. Young, note 10.

38. Young, note 7.

39. Ibid., p. 10.

40. Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices, pp. 60-74. See Benhabib's response to this critique in "Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy," in Benhabib, note 11.

41. Young, note 7, pp. 57-77.

42. Ibid., 79; Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices, pp. 62-65.

43. "Normative judgment is best understood as the product of dialogue under conditions of equality and mutual respect": Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices, p. 59.

44. See Young's adaptation of the system/lifeworld distinction: Young, note 7, pp. 158-159.

45. In Inclusion and Democracy, Young labels the two axes of injustice as "oppression" and "domination" (Young, note 7, p. 31). Each of these are defined in terms of an opposition to "self-development" and "self-determination," respectively. By "self-development," Young means the development of the individual's capacities, intellectual, practical, emotional, and communicative, to the fullest extent. By "self-determination" she means the ability to "participate in determining one's action and the condition of one's action" (p. 32). For Young, while the risks of oppression are largely, though by no means wholly, to do with economic power, the risks of domination are located in political power. See pp. 31-32.

46. Ibid., pp. 167, 190.

47. See note 45, above.

48. Young (note 7, p. 270) writes: "In Chapter 5 I discussed the important function of civil society in fostering independent public spheres through which individuals and groups expose the activities of powerful state and economic actors, express their opposition to or criticism of some of those activities, and hold powerful actors accountable. Global democratic processes could not be very strong without such public spheres that in principle included all the world's peoples. Already the possibilities of transportation and communication in the world today see the formation of incipient public spheres composed of active citizens in global civil society."

49. Ibid., p. 271.

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid.

52. Benhabib, note 7, pp. 144-145, 147.

53. Benhabib frequently makes reference to the notion of moral learning, both individual and collective. She derives this from Habermas (Benhabib, note 7, p. 39). She is also insistent on the role of imagination in enabling the appreciation of the perspectives of concrete others (ibid., p. 170). Young, as noted above, stresses the possibility of creation within the moral encounter, in which new vocabularies are invented (Young, note 10, Intersecting Voices, p. 53). However, both thinkers give priority to the norms inherent in communicative reason as the framework within which learning takes place and imagination in exercised. It is discourse or communication in accordance with egalitarian norms through which moral transformation is able to happen.

54. Of course, Benhabib would deny that there is any vicious circularity here, because of the possibility of ongoing processes of "recursive validation" in properly conducted public discourse. However, even if one were to accept that anything might be properly debated within the public sphere (regardless of performative contradiction), it would still be the case that the discourse had its exclusivities at any given point in the ongoing discursive cycle.

55. Spivak, note 10, p. 340. I consider Spivak's diagnosis of transnational feminism to be unnecessarily jaundiced. Much feminist work in the area of development has struggled to reverse the logic of modernization and learn from the experience and analysis of women at the sharp end of global injustice. See, for example, B. Ackerley, "Women's Human Rights Activists as Cross-Cultural Theorists," International Journal of Feminist Politics 3, no. 3 (2001): 311-346). However, although I would not endorse the sweeping nature of Spivak's claims, I would argue that they do have some resonance with dominant top-down approaches to international development and help to explain the nature of the alternative mode of moral relation to which Spivak's argument points.

56. Benhabib, note 7, pp. 178-186; Young, note 7, pp. 265-271.

57. Spivak, note 10, A Critique, p. 332. Fraser borrows from Spivak in coining the term subaltern counterpublic (see Fraser, note 7, "Rethinking the Public Sphere," p. 140 n.21).

58. Spivak, note 10, A Critique, p. 333.

59. Benhabib, note 7, p. 40.

60. Ibid., p. 271.

61. Spivak, note 10, "Cultural Talks," p. 340.

62. For both Benhabib and Young, what is learned or imagined in encounter with other may be validated only through an egalitarian communicative encounter.

63. Although I do not think Spivak is right to lump all transnational feminisms together in relation to this charge (see note 55, above), a case could certainly be made that this is what Benhabib and Young, in their shift from the ground of liberal-capitalist states to the sphere of global civil society, both accept.

64. Spivak, note 10, "Cultural Talks," p. 340.

65. Spivak, note 10, "Gender and International Studies," p. 824.

66. Spivak, note 10, A Critique, pp. 248-279.

67. Ibid., p. 265.

68. Ibid., pp. 256-264.

69. Ibid., p. 259.

70. Ibid., p. 199.

Kimberly Hutchings*

*Department of International Relations, London School of Economics, Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE. E-mail:
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Date:Jun 1, 2004
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