Nomadic Feminist Theory in a Global Era
This lecture addresses the so-called ‘post-human’ turn in contemporary feminist theory in the light of three main considerations: firstly the shifting perception and understanding of ‘the human’ in the Life sciences; secondly the effects of globalization as a system that functions by instilling the process of ‘timeless time’ and perverse, multiple time-lines. Thirdly, the impact of wars and conflicts in contemporary governmentality and the new forms of discrimination they engender on a planetary scale. Last but not least this talk examines the implications of this historical context for progressive, affirmative politics in general and gender issues in particular.
Rosi Braidotti, who holds Italian and Australian citizenship, was born in Italy and grew up in Australia, where she received a First-Class Honours degree from the Australian National University in Canberra in 1977 and was awarded the University Medal in Philosophy and the University Tillyard prize. Braidotti then moved on to do her doctoral work at the Sorbonne, where she received her degree in philosophy in 1981. She has taught at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands since 1988, when she was appointed as the founding professor in women’s studies. In 1995 she became the founding Director of the Netherlands research school of Women’s Studies, a position she held till 2005. Braidotti is a pioneer in European Women’s Studies: she founded the inter-university SOCRATES network NOISE and the Thematic Network for Women’s Studies ATHENA, which she directed till 2005. She was a Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor at Birkbeck College in 2005-6; a Jean Monnet professor at the European University Institute in Florence in 2002-3 and a fellow in the school of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1994. Braidotti is currently Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University and founding Director of the Centre for the Humanities.
Braidotti’s publications have consistently been placed in continental philosophy, at the intersection with social and political theory, cultural politics, gender, feminist theory and ethnicity studies. The core of her interdisciplinary work consists of four interconnected monographs on the constitution of contemporary subjectivity, with special emphasis on the concept of difference within the history of European philosophy and political theory. Braidotti’s philosophical project investigates how to think difference positively, which means moving beyond the dialectics that both opposes it and thus links it by negation to the notion of sameness. This is evidenced in the philosophical agenda set in her first book Patterns of Dissonance: An Essay on Women in Contemporary French Philosophy, 1991, which gets developed further in the trilogy that follows. In the next book, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, 1994 (second edition, revised and expanded, 2011), the question is formulated in more concrete terms: can gender, ethnic, cultural or European differences be understood outside the straightjacket of hierarchy and binary opposition? Thus the following volume,Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, 2002, analyses not only gender differences, but also more categorical binary distinctions between self and other, European and foreign, human and non-human (animal/ environmental/ technological others). The conclusion is that a systematic ambivalence structures contemporary cultural representations of the globalised, technologically mediated, ethnically mixed, gender-aware world we now inhabit. The question consequently arises of what it takes to produce adequate cultural and political representations of a fast-changing world and move closer to Spinozist notions of adequate understanding. The ethical dimension of Braidotti’s work on difference comes to the fore in the last volume of the trilogy,Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics, 2006. Here she surveys the different ethical approaches that can be produced by taking difference and diversity as the main point of reference and conclude that there is much to be gained by suspending belief that political participation, moral empathy and social cohesion can only be produced on the basis of the notion of recognition of sameness. Braidotti makes a case for an alternative view on subjectivity, ethics and emancipation and pitches diversity against the postmodernist risk of cultural relativism while also standing against the tenets of liberal individualism. Throughout her work, Braidotti asserts and demonstrates the importance of combining theoretical concerns with a serious commitment to producing socially and politically relevant scholarship that contributes to making a difference in the world. Braidotti’s output also included several edited volumes. Her work has been translated in a total of 19 languages and all the main books in at least three languages other than English.
Influenced by philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and especially “French feminist” thinker Luce Irigaray, Braidotti has brought postmodern feminism into the Information Age with her considerations of cyberspace, prosthesis, and the materiality of difference. Braidotti also considers how ideas of gender difference can affect our sense of the human/animal and human/machine divides. Braidotti has also pioneered European perspectives in feminist philosophy and practice and has been influential on third-wave as well as post-secular feminisms.
On 3 March 2005, Braidotti was honored with a Royal Knighthood from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands; in August 2006 she received the University Medal from the University of Lodz in Poland and she was awarded an Honorary Degree in Philosophy from Helsinki University in May 2007. In 2009, she was elected Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.