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The politics of experience: Constructing a non-identitarian feminism for theory and practice

Renee J Heberle, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In my dissertation I appropriate the insights of Theodor Adorno to critique identity logic in feminist theories of knowledge and representation. I do not argue we can "escape" identity or that we should reject it as a salient moment of cognition that shapes our political and sentient life. Rather, I question the privileged place of identity logic in feminism and elaborate a dialectical theory of experience and interpretation using Adorno's theory of negative dialectics. Adorno anticipates post-modern critiques of identity logic and theories of representation while sustaining a normative commitment to the quality of experience in the social world. Negative Dialectics elaborates a method of interpretation that contributes to realizing new forms for self-other relations in modernity. It is a resource feminism can draw upon to intervene in epistemological and post-modern arguments about identity and representation in modernity. In his philosophy, Adorno shows us that modes of representation and historical social relations interact in a negative dialectic that never allows us to realize, much less to tell, the final truth of experience. The relationship between form (representation) and substance (experience) is complexly mediated through the object world as are inter-subjective relations. In light of his insights, I critique the work of materialist feminists who assert that material experience offers epistemological privilege. I argue they obscure the contradictory effects of representation and the remainders left by efforts to conceptualize difference (in material experience) in modernity. I also explore the work of post-modern feminists who argue that because the "truth" cannot be told we must focus only on the politics of representation. I argue they defer attention to the qualities of experience that drive oppositional political struggle. Adorno's philosophy of experience and negative dialectics guides me in these readings and critiques of contemporary feminisms.

Subject Area

Political science|Womens studies|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Heberle, Renee J, "The politics of experience: Constructing a non-identitarian feminism for theory and practice" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9619393.