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Justice and Difference - the first talk in 'the monster album of feminist stories'

Posted by Asha Achuthan at Dec 04, 2008 10:50 AM |
CIS and 'the monster album of feminist stories', in relation to the Rewiring Bodies project by Asha Achuthan, hosted the first of a series of talks on cognizing feminism at the CIS premises on Cunningham Road on 14th November, 2008.

To give a brief introduction and explain why we call this the monster album, we could repeat the tired old truism that feminism is being crowded out, today, by ‘gender talk’, and, ironically, by the visibility now available to women. While truisms cannot be challenged, the sense of denial of space that this statement carries has today, perhaps, more to do with notions of irrelevance or the anachronistic nature of the word ‘feminism’ rather than the “backlash against women” so popularly and persuasively argued by Susan Faludi at another point in time. In response to this sense of denial, those of us who remain the irremediably converted have moved between defiance, defensiveness, apologia, and, now a decisive, if quiet, digging in of heels, based on a re-cognition of feminism itself--that is the work of the monster album.


Feminism as that liberatory, shade-giving mother, that warm place of refuge, is not a workable thesis, and the question then is – was it ever so? Or is feminism that monster, that unhappy moment of possession (not of an identity but by a vision), that grows larger and larger, demands more and more, not simply of the dominant but of the interrogator of the dominant? Does this not render unstable each time what had seemed the ultimately radical, interrupt each time a consolidation of identity under its own name, so that in response to the rhetorical question “Who’s afraid of feminism?” the feminist’s answer would be – “I am”? At such a re-cognition of feminism is where we are, with this talk as the first step in that exercise; it is perhaps a place that will host instability and unpalatable porosities between categories of “dominant” and “critical”. The monster album is related in indirect but hopefully productive ways to the work of the "Rewiring Bodies" project that is, in a nutshell, attempting to rework critical boundaries between women and the technological. 


Prof Shefali Moitra's talk on “Justice and Difference” offered a reading of the mainstream monologic model of justice that follows the principle of impartiality, and that seeks to incorporate context through representation. This was followed by a discussion of the “ad-hoc” model that responds heavily to context, to the extent of rejecting the monologic model altogether. Finally Prof Moitra spoke of what she called a “hybrid model” – one that takes into account the principles of impartiality and objectivity, and yet also takes into account context. A version of the paper that formed the basis for the talk is put up here for those wish to read it.



The talk threw up a lot of speculation, particularly regarding the ‘hybrid’ model. Considering that the prevailing climate of critique – of justice, as also in other areas – seems more comfortable with versions of the ‘ad hoc’ model as alternative, and any notion of impartiality seems infected by sameness, violence, or exclusion, a model such as the hybrid was bound to throw up such speculation and some confusion as well. But it is the possibility of such a model, that continues to talk of impartiality and objectivity, but that fails the normative claims of the homogenous system, that was most interesting. We hope to hear more from philosophers-practitioners on this. As for the monster album, this could perhaps be one of the ways in which liaisons between knowledge and critique might be explored.


Asha Achuthan

My disciplinary training is in medicine. Some of my questions about science and politics led me to a Women's Studies programme in Jadavpur University, from where I did an M.Phil with a focus on "women and development". I have recently submitted my PhD dissertation, "Feminist Standpoint Theory and the Question of Experience". I am also working as Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, on a project of curriculum revision in the natural and social sciences.