A Conversation with Rosi Braidotti
Utrecht, The Netherlands, August 1995
with Kathleen O'Grady
Reprinted from Women's Education des femmes. Spring 1996 (12, 1): 35-39. This document may be distributed and copied for classroom and other educational purposes as long as the journal and author is credited. Permission must be requested from the journal for reprinting this interview in a book or another journal. Reprinted here with permission from Kathleen O'Grady firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinity College, University of Cambridge.
Born in Italy, raised in Australia, educated in Paris and currently living and teaching in the Netherlands, Rosi Braidotti has created from her nomadic existence a politically motivated philosophy that provides a new framework for reinventing the female subject in our post-metaphysical world. Labelled a postmodern feminist, Braidotti aims to develop a theory that can support a heterogenous model of subjectivity for the contemporary woman. She writes her texts in polyglot fashion, sometimes first in English, sometimes in French or Italian, and then re-written for translation into a variety of languages. She facetiously names her dialects Italo-Australian, Franglais, New Yorkese Parisian patois or Dutch-lish. Currently she is the chair of the Women's Program in the Humanities at the University of Utrecht. Her books include the highly praised Patterns of Dissonance (1991), as well as Women, the Environment and Sustainable Development (1994), and Nomadic Subjects (1995).
K: In the jointly authored text, Women, the Environment and Sustainable Development (1994), you call for stronger links between feminists and environmental activists. What common ground exists between the two movements and what types of coalition are you proposing?
B: Well, it is a collective book. There were four of us involved in writing it, so it is very interdisciplinary, very broad ranging. The book was commissioned by the United Nations agency, INSTRAW, which is the Institute for the Advancement and the Training of Women (which I think, since then, has been restructured, unfortunately). And we started by doing an inventory of how in Western or Northern universities the question of environmentalism was or was not being dealt with, specifically within women's studies. That was the genesis of the project: a sort of intersection between focusing on gender or women and being concerned about ecological issues.
As we worked through the report for INSTRAW though, it became a lot more interesting and broader, so we ended up then writing it as a book. But it is very important to remember the parameters within which it really started because they also set some limitations. And as we did our survey of how the question of environmentalism was or was not represented in university curricula, in women's and gender studies, then the gap between the two areas really became apparent. And of course, this gap or hiatus was already clear if you approached the issue from the activist angle, because if you had been a women's studies activist or a women's issues activist, then You already knew that women's groups and" environmentalists do not always work together. There are some obvious and well-known exceptions, but globally the kind of work that environmental agencies or activist groups do is not always gender conscious, and alternatively, gender activists do not always take into account the question of the environment, except in the area known as "eco-feminism", which we survey very carefully in this book.
So we noticed a real gap in our university curricula and consequently in the agenda they implement, both in terms of practise, or praxis, and in terms of content, that we wanted to try and fill in. We found in the work of someone like Donna Haraway, both an environmentalist and a feminist, a good attempt to bridge this distance without appealing to, what is absolutely for us, the anathema notion of some ideas of female nature or of genuine, authentic nature that we need to come back to. How to be both non-essentialist and very much a consensus of coalition making. It is a bit of a wager, a bit of a hope for the future.
K: In your essay, "Feminist Critiques of Science" from the same text, you conduct a feminist analysis of science and scientific discourse. What ethical and epistemological questions does a feminist analysis of science raise?
B: Feminists have always shared a critical edge of concern for science, in so far as the inferiority of women has been extensively theorised and has been the object of intensive scientific discourses (in the West at least, certainly since the 16th and 17th century, and massively in modernity after that). The science question is in-built into feminism, as Sandra Harding has pointed out, so that by addressing the question of female nature, by addressing the question of human nature, by deconstructing both, of course we lay open the question of, not only the power of knowledge -- who decides what in which situational contexts or in which discursive contexts -- but also, epistemological questions that have to do with the texture almost, of the scientific disciplines: what to do with objectivity; what to do with certain notions of distance or neutrality; what to do with an increasing quantification of what we call scientific knowledge; what do we do with the regular and systematic recurrence of exclusion of always the same others; and this kind of persistence of the process of othering? It is always the women, it is always the non-whites or the blacks, it is always the children, it is always the physically disabled, it is always the physical environment.
There is a recurrence, a repetition of certain themes of exclusion. The need for such exclusions itself, is for us, an object of scientific inquiry, and yet, what we know of science, is built upon the omission of any reference to either the necessity of exclusion, or to the excluded groups. Science as a set of paradoxical intersections. But they are always building upon each other; they are two questions that simply cannot do without each other.
K: In your most renowned text, Patterns of Dissonance (1991), you are highly influenced by both Foucault and Deleuze. How is their work useful for feminist thought especially?
B: You may know that the next book I wrote is called Nomadic Subjects, where I develop much more my Deleuzian allegiance. And that seems to be, at the moment, the thinker that I am working the most with. But I think that my general position is still the one that I describe in Patterns of Dissonance, and that is that one has to be very pragmatic and relatively opportunistic about the Ywritings of" the philosophers. I have a great deal of problems marrying, so to speak, into any one philosophy, and the metaphor of divorce, of dissonance, of splitting, comes up strongly in the book. I do think there is an interesting intersection, or, if you will, a coming together of interests between feminism on the one hand and, on the other, the margin of critical thinkers who are attempting to redefine philosophy, radically, critically, in a 21st century perspective, making it relevant to today's culture, and I would definitely put all the French school into that category. There is an interesting convergence between them -- their reconstruction, deconstruction of philosophy -- and some of the things that feminists aspire to, but I do not think that the connection is given. I think it has to be constructed. It has to be built up step by step. At best, we can "use" certain philosophical ideas for feminist purposes.
I do not think that Foucault & feminism or Deleuze & feminism is the answer. And this is very important because now Deleuze is becoming extremely fashionable. I just spent a year in the States, so I can see the coming of the Deleuzian wave....It is inevitable, but you have to be very ironical about it, be a bit distant from it. I think that no one major philosopher has the answer. They have tools of analysis that we can use and they share a concern for the deconstruction of the discipline. I think that is absolutely crucial. To be willing and interested in opening up a discipline, saying this is what it is made of, this is what it excludes or silences, that is what it can do for us. As Deleuze says, the only future of a discipline like philosophy is its capacity for self-criticism, and consequently, for reinventing itself creatively.
They are certainly very radical in their epistemologies and that is useful. But it is not given; everything has to be constructed, for different reasons. Foucault is androcentric and I think Deleuze if fundamentally a romantic when it comes to sexual difference, a high-tech romantic. I am sure that this will have disastrous consequences when he is applied in a cyber- punk mode: new internet cowboys who are riding the wave of the next technological revolution. Why bring gender out of the picture? In the name of "poli-sexuality" and multiplicities. That is going to be a very big problem....Beware of any complete and unconditional alliance with any philosophy.
click here for PART TWO