A dualism is more than a relation of dichotomy, difference, or nonidentity, and more than a simple hierarchical relationship. In dualistic construction, as in hierarchy, the qualities (actual or supposed), the culture, the values and the areas of life associated with the dualised other are systematically and pervasively constructed and depicted as inferior. Hierarchies, however, can be seen as open to change, as contingent and shifting. But once the process of domination forms culture and constructs identity, the inferiorised group (unless it can marshall cultural resources for resistance) must internalise this inferiorisation in its identity and collude in this low valuation, honouring the values of the centre, which form the dominant social values… A dualism is an intense, established and developed cultural expression of such a hierarchical
relationship, constructing central cultural concepts and identities so as to make equality and mutuality literally unthinkable.
(Plumwood, 1993: 47)
Plumwood illustrates an important feature of the organization of language and its relations to power. This is that of the embedded nature of hierarchization that goes beyond a simple binary. The key elements of dualistic structuring in Western thought include culture/nature, reason/ nature, male/female, mind/body, reason/emotion, reason/matter, public/ private, subject/object and self/other (ibid.: 43). These, however, are not discrete pairs that bear no relation to other concepts in language. Rather, dualisms should be seen as a network of strongly linked and continuous webs of meanings. For example, ‘the concepts of humanity, rationality and masculinity form strongly linked and contiguous parts of this web, a set of closely related concepts which provide for each other models of appropriate relations to their respective dualised contrasts of nature, the physical or material, and the feminine’ (ibid.: 46). In this respect, as Hekman (1999: 85) notes, rationality, humanity and masculinity form ‘the ideal type that forms the central core of modern social and political theory’.
Plumwood sets out five features that she argues are characteristic of dualism. These are:
• Backgrounding (denial) Plumwood comments that the relations of domination give rise to certain conflicts as those who dominate seek to deny their dependency and reliance on those they dominate. Denial of this dependency takes many forms. These include making the depended upon inessential and denying the importance of the other’s contribution. The view of those who dominate is set up as universal ‘and it is part of the mechanism of backgrounding that it never occurs to him that there might be other perspectives from which he is background’ (1993: 48).
• Radical exclusion (hyperseparation) Plumwood argues that radical exclusion is a key indicator of dualism. Radical exclusion or hyperseparation arises because those who are superior need to ensure that their distinctiveness is perceived to be more than mere difference. For example, there may be a single characteristic that is possessed by one group but not the other. This ‘is important in eliminating identification and sympathy between members of the dominating class and the dominated, and in eliminating possible confusion between powerful and powerless. It also helps to establish
separate “natures” which explain and justify widely differing privileges and fates’ (ibid.: 49).
• Incorporation (relational definition) Incorporation or relational definition occur where masculine qualities, for example, are taken as primary. While the meanings of femininity and masculinity rely on each other, this is not a relationship of equals. Rather, ‘the underside of a dualistically conceived pair is defined in relation to the upperside as a lack, a negativity’ (ibid.: 52).
• Instrumentalism (objectification) Instrumentalism or objectification is the process whereby those on the lower or inferior side of the duality have to put their interests aside in favour of the dominant and indeed are seen as ‘his instruments, a means to his ends. They are made part of a network of purposes which are defined in terms of or harnessed to the master’s purposes and needs. The lower side is also objectified, without ends of its own which demand consideration on their own account. Its ends are defined in terms of the master’s ends’ (ibid.: 53).
• Homogenization or stereotyping Homogenization or stereotyping are ways through which hierarchies are maintained because they disregard any differences amongst the inferiorized class. Such a view would suggest, for example, that all women are the same.
Plumwood’s approach to this analysis of dualism would be described as deconstructive. Deconstruction has been a significant tool in the politics of feminism that has facilitated an understanding of how truths are produced (Spivak, 2001). In this, deconstruction is not simply concerned with overturning binaried thinking but in illustrating how terms draw on their meaning from their dualistic positioning.