'Feminist Thought and the Totalitarian Interloper: On Rhetoric and the Fear of 'Dangerous Thinking''

Bell, Vikki. 2002. 'Feminist Thought and the Totalitarian Interloper: On Rhetoric and the Fear of 'Dangerous Thinking''. Economy & Society, 31(4), pp. 573-587. ISSN 0308-5147 [Article]

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Starting from the premise that thinking in itself cannot be dangerous, but that the presentation of thought as public communication can be an occasion to debate the potentialities of an intervention, this article addresses feminist theoretical disputes as rhetorical exchange. The focus is the now well-known critique that Martha Nussbaum made of Judith Butler’s work, a critique to which some have responded by questioning in turn Nussbaum’s certainties regarding what feminism is and should be. This article addresses the highly inflammatory terms and frames of reference of these exchanges. It asks: how is that those who are understood as leading feminist theorists can be read as dangerous collaborators with evil and those who defend normative theories of social justice can be read as fascistic? The article explores these questions by relating them to the ‘dangerous’ accusation that has been levied elsewhere (that is, in relation to the utilization of post-structuralist theory) and notices as crucial the terms of reference and versions of historical memory that are evoked, in particular those that evoke the history of totalitarianism and the figure of the fascist. The article argues that there are many routes by which to ‘explain’ the appearance of these contexts and figures but advocates a genealogical approach to understand how these contexts, fears and forms of rhetoric emerged. Concluding, the article suggests – rhetorically – that there is little comfort or gain to be had through a pretence that evil will attach itself to a particular theoretical style as if to a magnet, and little credibility to be given to one who claims the ability to see, to foresee and to comprehend the constitution of all the battles that face feminists and women, let alone democratic norms.

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November 2002Published

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21 Sep 2015 14:19

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04 Jul 2017 14:14

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