Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Personal, the Political, and the Reduction of Politics with Lorna Finlayson


with Lorna Finlayson

Room 4, Mill Lane Lecture Theatre, Cambridge

The famous slogan of second-wave feminism, “The personal is political”, has by now become such a commonplace that it may scarcely occur to us to ask what it really stands for. It is used so often, and by writers and activists of such different leanings, that it is in danger of losing its meaning altogether.

I argue that it is necessary to revisit the context of the so-called ‘second wave’ if we are to restore content to what has become almost an empty phrase, and that doing so yields an understanding of the slogan as primarily making a point about modes of resistance to oppressive structures such as patriarchy: political struggle must not only aim to transform the personal, but must be conducted in and through this supposedly ‘private’ realm. However, this raises an apparent dilemma – one of which second-wave feminists were already aware, but which perhaps is particularly salient now – between a dogmatic ‘personal solutionary’ approach (which threatens to reduce feminism to the policing of individual lifestyles) and a vapid ‘choice feminism’ (which presents all options as ‘equally valid’ and even as ‘liberating’). Both variants, in their different ways, seem to end up robbing feminism of its politics rather than staying true to the original intention to politicise the personal. I suggest that drawing on critical theory, and on the notion of ideology-critique in particular, can help us to avoid the horns of this dilemma and to preserve the insight behind one of feminism’s favourite clich├ęs.

Lorna Finlayson is a Junior Research Fellow in Philosophy at King's College, University of Cambridge.

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Welcome to the first of this year's Critical Theory and Practice seminars! Organised by Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) and Cambridgeshire Left, the aim of these talks is to integrate contemporary radical theory with political practice and activism. Each talk will consist of a presentation followed by an open-ended Q&A session (and a trip to the pub).

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