“Locational Feminism: Gender, Cultural Geographics, and Geopolitical Literacy”—Susan Stanford Friedman
In this article, Susan Stanford Friedman articulates a feminist geopolitics and a feminist spatial rhetoric/literacy, which have risen in Third Wave feminism from the need to develop a geographically situated feminism that is both local and global in scope and does not erase difference (21). Friedman argues for a “re-singularization of feminism” in which theory and praxis work together to: acknowledge the various manifestations of feminism across borders and time; focus on local conditions and resistances that develop within regional/national/transnational contexts; and track transcultural formations that migrate fluidly through space (21).
Friedman begins this article by discussing the motivations behind the pluralization of feminism, which occurred alongside the Civil Rights movement, explaining that the added s was an attempt to both disrupt the homogeneity of experience implied in the singular term feminism and acknowledge the multiple differences of race, sexual preference, class, and age of women in specific geographical locations. Friedman calls for a re-singularization of the term feminism, not to return to a universal feminist subjectivity or homogenous feminist movement, nor to imply that the acknowledgement of differences of women in specific geographic locations is no longer needed. Rather Friedman calls for a locational feminism, which “acknowledges the historically and geographically specific forms in which feminism emerges, takes root, changes, travels, translates, and transplants in different spacio/temporal contexts” (3). Friedman explains that feminism is global in the sense of its “widespread indigenous formations,” but also global because of “the way it travels, transplants, and transculturates” (3).
TRANSCULTURATION—ongoing process in which a culture absorbs and redefines within its own terms what it takes from others as an effect of multiple contact zones (4).
Locational feminism, Friedman writes, emphasizes the spatial over the temporal, the geographical specificity over the historical (4). To explore the meanings of spatiality of as well as the cultural epistemology embedded in feminist theory and praxis, Friedman maps the spatial rhetorics in contemporary US feminist theory, which has evolved to suit the postmodern, global condition (4).
RHETORIC—linguistic materiale, which reveals widespread categories of social thought as these in turn shape how we understand human experience (5). “Any give rhetoric has a particular history and location requiring historiographic genealogies and “thick descriptions” of local manifestations” (5).
In order to uncover the cultural epistemology of feminist rhetoric, Friedman explores the shift in rhetoric which occurs between 2nd and 3rd wave feminism, marked by a shift “from a prevailing temporal rhetoric of awakening, revelation, and rebirth to a spatial rhetoric of location, multipositionality, and migration” (5). Second wave feminism, Friedman explains, is a linear narrative of “consciousness raising,” which focuses on “gender in isolation from other systems of stratification” (8). Third wave feminism, on the other hand, is a dynamic and dialogic “discourse of negotiation” embedded in geographical specificity, which embraces the “interaction” of gender with power relations based on race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, nation, etc. (8). Spatial rhetorics, or spatial metarophics as Friedman identifies it, “suggests [ongoing and never-ending] fluid and flexible ways of being that posit identity as relational, situational, and interactive” (8).
Friedman also refers to this spatial rhetoric as the “new geographies of location.”
NEW GEOGRAPHIES OF LOCATION—“figures identity as a historically embedded site, a positionality, a standpoint, a terrain, an intersection, a web, a network, a crossroads of multiple situated knowledges” (8). Maps out “territories and boundaries, contours and topographies, the dialectical terrains of inside/outside or center/margin, the axial intersections of different positionalities, and the spaces of dynamic encounter—the ‘contact zone,’ the ‘middle ground,’ the borderlands, the frontera” (8-9).
This figuring of identity, Friedman explains, is made possible by a blending, clashing, and overlapping of rhetoric from feminism, multiculturalism, poststructuralism, postcolonial studies (9).
In order to help her reader negotiate this rhetoric, Friedman spends quite a bit of time defining specific spatial rhetorics common to the field.
2nd and 3rd wave feminism developed a discourse now commonplace in the field. For instance, it is now commonplace in feminist theory to refer to the:
the POSITION-one occupies
the STANDPOINT—from which one speaks
and the LOCATION-within which one’s agency negotiates.
One’s SUBJECTIVITY “takes shape at the intersections or crossroads of different systems of stratification [or AXES OF DIFFERENCE] where the circuit of power and privilege are multidirectional and complex” (10).
From my understanding then, a discourse of negotiation, aids one in understanding, constructing, and articulating the dynamic mulitipositionality of our subjectivies. In order for this to be possible, Friedman says we must develop SPATIAL LITERACY, which recognizes that our identity is comprised of multiple spatial locations (12).
Friedman explains that this spatial literacy demands a “grammar of geopolitical feminist rhetoric” (12). In the past, politics in feminist rhetoric has referred to “power relations in general, in the private as well as the public sphere, in the relation between the sexes as well as between governmental units” (12). A feminist geopolitics “encourages examination of gender in multipositional contexts” (13).
FEMINIST GEOPOLITICS—“examination of power relations as they are embedded in the earth, in a given location, and as they migrant around the earth locally, regionally, nationally, and transnationally” (13).
Feminist geopolitics is different from “global feminism,” which assumed a universal patriarchy and expected a universal sisterhood in an effort to resist it. Feminist geopolitics favors instead “locational heterogeneity and idiomatic [and multiple agencies] particularly in transnational context, ” which Spivak advocates for in “transnational literacy” (13). From this perspective, feminist ideas and activism, Friedman explains “travel from place to place…take root and translate local idioms, each with their own agendas and negotiations within the context of particular locations” (13). The geopolitical nature of feminism derives then from the “interconnection of local gender systems worldwide as well as the hybridization of different feminisms” (14).
The geopolitical feminist rhetoric, Friedman points out, which “operates according to a transnational grammar with a number of specific figural formations” (14) is actually a pattern of tropes, what she calls METAPHORICS, of nation, border, migration, ‘glocation,’ and conjuncture (14).
NATION—typically refers to state-to-state relations in international context. Women’s relation to state is one of ambivalence in which women are “caught between identification with national aspirations and recognition of men’s special privilege within most state formations” (14). As nations are tangled in the web of international relations, women are caught in a web of multipositionality [My interpretation].
BORDER—suggests not only “material conditions as they impact on gender formations but also their figural function to describe psychological, spiritual, and cultural borderlands of differences of all kinds” (14). [Think Anzaldua here, of course]. What is important to notes is that borders can be erected to defend against or constrain the Other; borders are “porous sites of intercultural mixing, cultural hybridization, and creolization; border are “spaces of desire for connection, utopian longing, and blending of differences” (15).
MIGRATION—“relies on both metaphorics of nation and borders but develops them even further to reflect on the meanings of immigration, constant travel back and forth, and diaspora for spatial modes of thinking about identity,” which influence identity as a whole (15).
GLOCATIONAL—“notion of how the local and global are co-complicit, each implicated in the other” (18). Discourse which “respects the material and cultural specificities of local feminist formations, and encourages analysis of how the gender/race/class system in one location is politically and economically linked to that of another” (18). “Thinking glocationally involves understanding how the local, the private, and the domestic are constituted in relation to global systems, and conversely how such systems must be read for their particular locational inflection” (19).
CONJUNCTURE—epistemological juncture, derived from the juxtaposition of different cultural formations, which sheds light on each and for the way in which each discursive systems ‘interrupts’ the other” (19).
Conjuncture leads to cultural parataxis.
CULTURAL PARATAXIS—form of “conjucture or superimposition developed particularly as a part of modernist poetics to describe the radical juxtapositions the poets and artists made with a deliberate suppression of explicit connection” (19). Think collage here.
Friedman notes that as a “mode of geopolitical rhetoric that reflects the intensification and acceleration of globalization in postmodern age, cultural parataxis “performs an imaginative travel from one cultural formation to another for the insight about both that potentially ensues” (19). Cultural parataxis can especially shed light on the influence of race and class on gender oppression between two cultures.
In her conclusion, Friedman claims “a greater awareness of feminist spatial rhetoric in turn fosters the development of a locational feminism that is geographically inflected and global in scope without the erasure of difference” (21).
What is so fascinating to me (don’t laugh Trish and Tanya) about Friedman’s article is the way she maps feminist rhetoric on the page. For someone just growing interested in transnational feminism from a rhetorical perspective, Friedman’s article tastes as delicious as a cheese pizza with fresh basil and tomatoes and a thin, crispy crust. My mouth salivated when I was reading her article because it was so rich with rhetoric. Perhaps, I was truly just craving the personal pizza I was waiting for at Paneras as I read the article, but the point is that when reading her article it became extremely clear how vital rhetoric is for the field of feminism. I think this is what attracts me to the field of feminism–the awareness feminists have about the role rhetoric plays not only in the construction of their field but also the construction of the cultural, political, social identity. What became clear to me when reading about metaphorics is that as much as rhetoric creates the nation, rhetoric also creates the self. (I am one of those persons who has epiphanies late in life, so for those of you who have always known that language creates us, bare with me.) I think that is why Anzaldua has become so popular in recent years. She offers a fresh way of conceiving and understanding how rhetoric composes our identities as well as our cultures.
When I first read Friedman’s article, I started thinking of the multipositionality of our own field. You only need to to the CCR homepage and click on faculty and students to see the diversity in the positions we occupy, the standpoints we speak from, and the locations within which we negotiate agency. Each of our scholar subjectivities take shape at various intersections of different systems of stratification where the circuit of power and privilege are multidirectional and complex.
As I read I couldn’t help but find myself replacing the word feminism with the word rhetoric. Consider:
A locational rhetoric is one that acknowledges the historically and geographically specific forms in which rhetoric emerges, takes root, changes, travels, translates, and transplants in different spacio/temporal contexts. Perhaps, when we speak of cultural rhetoric, we are really speaking about locational rhetoric. After all, doesn’t it make sense to think of cultural rhetoric as a dynamic and dialogic “discourse of negotiation” embedded in geographical specificity, which embraces the “interaction” of rhetoric with power relations based on race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, nation, etc. As Friedman herself notes, “rhetoric has a particular history and location requiring historiographic genealogies and ‘thick descriptions’ of local manifestations.”
Also, last night Trish, Tanya, Zosha and I were talking about tension that some think exists between English Lit. program and ours’. This discussion, for me, served as evidence for the tension or misunderstanding that exists between the disciplines of Literary Studies and Rhetoric and Composition as a whole. Thinking of that tension, when thinking about this essay, I couldn’t help but think of what would happen if we attempted to analyze our field and ourselves as scholars through the metaphorics of nation, borders, migration, ‘glocation,’ and conjucture.
NATION—typically refers to state-to-state relations in international context. Here I see it as discipline-to-discipline relations in academic context. R and C’s relation to English Departments, in which they are often housed, is one of ambivalence in which R and C teachers/professors are caught between identification with department aspirations and recognition of Literary studies special privilege within most department formations. As nations are tangled in the web of international relations, R and C teachers/professors are caught in a web of multipositionality.
BORDER—suggests not only material conditions as they impact on our field’s formations but also their figural function to describe psychological, spiritual, and cultural borderlands of differences of all kinds. As Friedman notes, what is important to notes is that borders can be erected to defend against or constrain the Other; borders are “porous sites of intercultural mixing, cultural hybridization, and creolization; border are “spaces of desire for connection, utopian longing, and blending of differences” (15). What borders do we as R and C scholars/teachers/professors erect? What borders constrain us? As a porous site, what does the creolization of our field entail? What desires to we have for connection, utopian longing, and blending our differences?
MIGRATION—How do we constantly travel back and forth between disciplines? How has the diaspora for those of us who have moved away from English departments affected our identity as a whole?
GLOCATIONAL—How could we develop a discourse which respects the material and cultural specificities of each of our local disciplinary formations and encourages analysis of how the discourse/theory/practice system in one location is politically and economically linked to that of another?
CONJUNCTURE—How might a juxtaposition of our different disciplinary formations shed light on each and for the way in which each discursive systems ‘interrupts’ the other?
I don’t know if any of these questions are truly useful, but perhaps because I am new to the field and seem to be experiencing a bit of crisis identity coming from an English Department to CCR, and because I am still trying to discern just what the field of Rhetoric and Composition is since it seems to be so interdisciplinary, these questions or this spatial rhetoric seems to be able to offer some possibilities into how I/we might better understand the multipositionality of our field and the tension that still exists between the English Literature and C and R disciplines…..