Generally, in my blog posts, I try not to summarize the readings, but instead to extend their arguments or raise salient questions. I’m not sure if this week’s readings have theory I have no grounding in, or that we’ve simply hit the inevitable point of endless sleep deprivation in the quarter, but I’m struggling to follow the theoretical arguments here. Thus, my focus here is tracing through what a couple of the readings’ arguments.
It’s challenging to jump into Haraway’s manifesto without this book’s introduction, but in a general sense, I think she envisions a feminist politics and epistemology through the lens of the cyborg, which is defined as a “cybernetic organism, hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” (149) In this chapter, she gives a theoretical background for the term “cyborg,” and doesn’t caution us about organism/technology integration’s impact on women, so much as tease out the multiple threads that influence this impact. While she doesn’t use this terminology, Haraway’s approach is intersectional (“I argue for a politics rooted in claims about fundamental changes in the nature of class, race, and gender,” p. 161).
Haraway cites several theorists who confront the challenges and limitations of identity politics, specifically as they relate to women (Chela Sandoval, Katie King). In response, she offers up the inevitability of fractured identities, saying that “cyborg feminists have to argue that ‘we’ do not want any more natural matrix of unity and that no construction is whole.” (157) Haraway is concerned that with the creation and integration of new technology (she articulates this shift in a chart of terminology that present historical and contemporary “informatics of domination”), women are disparately (negatively) affected. For example, as exported labor (like building cables or iPhones) is feminized (given mainly to women), world-wide conglomerates are able to create (often unfair) policies that directly impact (or influence) women’s health (reproduction, for example).
Many of her arguments come down to simplistic statements (ex: “totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality” – 181), and what’s important about this essay is not so much the arguments themselves, as the context in which she frames them (technology is inevitable and integrated into our lives now, and we have to confront its impact on women – materially, psychologically, politically, internationally, etc.) – or am I missing something?!
I think part of my confusion stems from Haraway’s tonal shifting; playfully tongue-in-cheek one moment, serious and deeply theoretical the next, it’s hard to track her argument since her approach to technology is (necessarily) ambivalent. Additionally, contrary to almost every other technology we’ve studied, Haraway represents a step back in time, so perhaps what seems simplistic now (a focus on international labor, the simultaneous liberatory possibilities and dangerous inevitabilities of technology, imagining a world without gender) was more cutting edge then.
Puar’s project in this article is purportedly a thinking through of the relations between intersectionality and assemblage, but the majority of it reads as a take down of intersectionality (intersectionality as it currently stands, not Crenshaw’s intervention or intention, but the generative results of said intervention).
Many of Puar’s concerns strike me as misreadings; it’s not that I disagree with them per se, but much of her criticism seems like a paranoid (vs. reparative) reading of intersectionality.
For example, she says, “Malini Joshar Schueller argues that most scholarship on WOC is produced by WOC, while many white feminists, although hailing intersectionality as primary methodological rubric continue to take gender difference as foundational.” It’s hard to combat this without a deep dive into Schueller’s work, but… do most feminist scholars now really take gender difference as foundational? Isn’t that scholars like Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling have been arguing against for decades? And, do we really expect that someone other than WOC produce the majority of scholarship on WOC? Is that even a problem? It seems like when someone else does do that kind of research, their work is always or almost always subjected to authenticity criticism.
I know that Puar’s larger point is that white feminism uses the terminology of intersectionality without actually utilizing it – but shouldn’t that be a criticism of intersectionality’s co-option, not the method of analysis and beliefs themselves?
Or consider, as another example, her question, “What does an intersectional critique look like—or more to the point, what does it do–in an age of neo-liberal pluralism, absorption and accommodation of difference, of all kinds of differences?” I think it still does much. For instance, “Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala,” by Edward Fischer and Peter Benson, traces a head of broccoli between its Mayan farmers and Nashville consumers. Fischer and Benson aren’t explicitly feminist scholars, but their research, which is ethnographic, Marxist at times, and transnational in focus, is deeply intersectional. Here, I think intersectionality “works” because it’s deployed ethnographically. By presenting specific portraits of farmers, Fischer and Benson are able to simultaneously consider farmer’s domestic situations, economic concerns, racial standing, transnational involvement, etc. – different flows of identity and situating.
While, nominally, Puar wants to consider how to utilize both assembles and intersectionality, she seems to reify a dichotomous view of them for much of her talk. But when I consider Agencement, the original form of assemblages, I’m mystified as to how it counters intersectionality. Intersectionality, to me, is among other things, a way to locate oneself and others in an ever-shifting web of identities and power dynamics. Both of these frameworks/methods use “networks” as a guiding principle. And I’ve always understood intersectionality as a way of thinking through a moment (or identity) in time – one that might influence the future, but in no way determines it.
What do y’all think? Am I mis-reading Puar?
Tangentially, what does Puar mean by “signification”? She references it throughout the essay, but the moment I’m most confused by is in response to Schueller’s argument that a focus on matter like Haraway’s cyborg also bypasses the issue of race, namely a “critique of linguistic performativity that presumes that everything resides within signification.”)
 She also opposes Catherine MacKinnon’s vision of radical feminism, arguing that it’s essentialist and “obliterate[s] the authority of any other women’s political speech and action.”
 After all, what, really, is an ironic myth?
 Yes, of course, one can argue that we need scholars to research groups that they don’t identify with, but isn’t that actually an argument for either getting more WOC into the academy/research positions OR a reductive stand-in for a larger argument against identity politics?