Indiana University Press has released a book by two University of Texas at Arlington professors. Stacy Alaimo, an associate professor of English, and Susan Hekman, professor of political science and director of graduate humanities, are the co-editors of “Material Feminisms,” a collection of works by some of the most outstanding feminist scholars.
According to Shannon Sullivan, head of the Pennsylvania State University Department of Philosophy, the book offers "specific, groundbreaking accounts of the material effects of ethical, political, scientific, environmental, and other cultural practices." The book unites theories generated by recent understandings of the human body, the natural world and the material world and presents a new way for feminists to conceive of the question of materiality. Essays by an international group of feminist thinkers challenge the assumptions and norms that have previously defined studies about the body. These wide-ranging essays grapple with topics such as the material reality of race, the significance of sexual difference, the impact of disability experience, and the complex interaction between nature and culture in traumatic events such as Hurricane Katrina. By insisting on the importance of materiality, the volume breaks new ground in philosophy, feminist theory, cultural studies, science studies, and other fields where the body and nature collide. “The task for feminists today is not just to bemoan the absence of materiality in feminist theories, but to forge a new theory that can accommodate the material as well as the discursive,” said Hekman. “That is what this collection seeks to do."
Many of the topics seem to have little to do with feminism. Subjects range from the insights of Niels Bohr and theoretical physics, to Hurricane Katrina, to toxic bodies, to disability experience, to antidepressants, to taking care of the hair of one’s adopted daughter who happens to be of a different race.
Alaimo said the long history of grounding the oppression of women in biology—the idea that biology is destiny, that women’s bodies make women inferior in intellectual and other ways—most feminism has distanced itself from biology. The negative historical associations between woman and nature have also resulted in feminism being distanced from the idea of nature.
“Many feminists now, however, would like to forge more complicated ways of understanding the body—neither reducing us to our bodies nor ignoring the very real affects of actual female bodies,” Alaimo said.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.