Title: 'Under Western Eyes' Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles

Author: Chandra Nohanty

Date: 2004

Summary By: Kate


This article is a response to criticism of her earlier essay “Under Western Eyes,” a clarification of points she feels have been misunderstood, and an update of where she thinks the research agenda should be pointing today.
Her earlier essay argued that there was a need for a new feminist scholarship that moved away from the Western understanding of feminism, and acknowledged the power-knowledge nexuses of the feminist discourse formation, and focused both on the micropolitics of context and the macropolitics of global political systems.
Moreover, she claims that her work should not be characterized as postmodern or interpretivist – she wasn’t saying that all knowledge is specific, but that white Western feminism is wrong. There is a possibility for a unified feminism but it should be noncolonizing and based on solidarity across borders. While we should focus on differences, this will help us better perceive commonalities.
She makes a point of using new typologies in this essay, moving away from a “Western versus Third World” understanding or a “North versus South” understanding towards writing about the “One-Third World” (the Western/North) and the “Two-thirds World” (the Southern/Third World). This terminology focuses on the majority/minority issue without assuming that certain geographic areas are uniformly well-off and dominant whereas others are universally poor and oppressed. Instead, there are minorities and majorities in every country and there are commonalities to be found between them. She situates herself as being “for the Two-Thirds World, but with the privileges of the One-Third World” (228).
Her new research focus is on “anticapitalist transnational feminist practice” (230). Methodologically, this requires focusing on those at the bottom of the “ladder of privilege” (231) and reading your way up, and she recommends incorporating feminism, historical materialism, and “postpositivist realists” (understood as scholars who “explicitly link a historical materialist understanding of social location to the theorization of epistemic privilege and the construction of social identity” (244)).
This approach would highlight issues like environmental racism (the tendency to locate pollutants near to poor communities), or biopiracy (the way the WTO gives preference to “corporate commercial interests, based on Western systems of knowledge in agriculture and medicine, to products and innovations derived from indigenous knowledge traditions” (232) thus implicitly claiming that “the knowledge of the Third World and the knowledge of people of color is not knowledge” (Shiva as quoted by Mohanty, 233)). Since women bear the brunt of this globalization, feminism without borders is necessary to combat injustices of global capitalism.
How can this be done practically?
She starts within the academy, describing three “pedagogical models used in ‘internationalizing’ the women’s studies curriculum” (238).
1. Feminist-as-tourist model: BAD. keeps the syllabus essentially the same but supplements with some non-Western or Third World pieces. “Monolithic images of the Third World/Southern women … [are contrasted] with images of Euro-American women who are vital, changing, complex and central subjects…” (240).
2. Feminist-as-explorer model: BAD. International is defined according to whether it is not the US. Local and global are collapsed into an “other” which excludes the US. There is American Studies, but this is completely different from “area studies” as applied to the rest of the world.
3. The feminist solidarity of comparative feminist studies model: GOOD! Local and global are seen as constituting each other and existing simultaneously – the links between them are what is focused on. Syllabi are organized around substantive areas – e.g. sex work, environmental justice, etc. And this should be done with an eye to activism.
Then she looks at the antiglobalization movements, arguing that both globalizing and antiglobalizing discourses have tended to be gendered, and to produce an oversimplified vision of women.
Feminists need to be antiglobalization activists, and antiglobalization activists need to be feminists.

Discussion point:

I see a lot of IR and CRS scholarship as falling into the second of Mohanty’s categories – the “feminist-as-explorer” archetype of scholarship. Of course, not all of the work takes gender as its subject matter, but regardless of subject area the disciplines tend to essentialize a difference between the US and the rest of the world – if I study the internally displaced in Columbia I’m doing IR; if I study the internally displaced in the US it becomes Sociology. If I study civil society in Egypt its IR; if I study civil society in the US its Political Science.