The aim of this course is to critically examine how various “schools” of feminist political thought understand the relationship between experience and politics. We will pay particular attention to: 1) what feminist theorists mean when they speak of “experience” and 2) the debate among feminist theorists regarding whether experience is the grounds of politics or if politics necessarily precedes experience.
Section one of the course explores radical, standpoint, and other feminist theorists’ presumption that the “personal is political” or that personal experience is the motive force of politics. Section two of the course interrogates how and why many materialist, postmodern, and, other feminist theorists reject the presumption that such experience is the grounds of politics. We will focus our attention on many materialist feminists’ contention that a focus on personal experience diverts attention from the structural dimensions of women’s oppression and on postmodern feminists’ contention that personal experience is always already politicized. The final section of the course explores feminist political theorists’ efforts to strike a “middle ground” between experience and politics. We will examine Young’s notion of “serialty,” Spivak’s argument(s) regarding “strategic essentialism,” and Zerilli’s suggestion that we reconceptualize gendered experience as a political claim.