The standard idea of a philosophical quibble concerns how thinkers answer or respond to a problem whose answer is seen as there to be found, as though the question or the problem were subordinate to some good reason that philosophy would simply recognise (rather than create) . . . But feminist questions have rarely taken this form. On the contrary, feminist questions and concepts ask what a philosophy might do, how it might activate life and thought, and how certain problems create (rather than describe) effects. . . When confronted with a theory or body of thought feminism has tended to ask an intensely active question, not ‘What does it mean?’ but ‘How does it work?’ What can this concept or theory do? How can such a theory exist or be lived? What are its forces?

(Colebrook, 2000: 7)


ocial scientific training encourages us to look for systematization, linkage, unification, and synthesis. It encourages us to ask if there is a founding principle that will provide an explanatory framework for understanding. This is the case even perhaps where none exists. This has certainly been an issue for me in charting the different meanings in this text as I have asked what kind of inter-relationships, similarities and distinctive features might be found. My concerns began in Chapter 1 where I outlined some of the ways in which we could explain debate over meaning and its implications for feminist research and theory. These explanatory frameworks included the Derridean notion of non­fixity and deferral of meaning, the dualistic framings of language and the role of deconstruction, Wittgenstein’s focus on ordinary language use and the importance of context and Connolly’s (1993) and Tanesini’s (1994) analyses of essentially contested concepts.

Something more, however, remains to be said. I need to add one further point to these analyses that I believe is particularly relevant to understanding the often times passionate, and many times divisive, nature of debate over meaning within feminism. This is that concerns over meaning within feminism have never simply been about adding to

or adopting a previous body of knowledge. Feminist concerns over meaning have arisen because of the implications for what might become or what might be created if particular meanings are taken up. Colebrook (2000: 5) comments in this respect: ‘Never a stable body of thought with a grounding axiom or system, feminism has addressed theory not merely in terms of what a philosopher might offer but also in terms of what feminism might become.’ Understanding feminism as a politics of becoming illustrates how much is at stake when debates over meaning arise. This is the future. When we ask, as we did in Chapter 1, ‘What is ‘‘woman’’?’, we are of course posing both an historical and a contemporary question. Our answer, though, must also be evaluated in terms of what woman might become and who she will be.

And so it is that in this final chapter I have one primary aim. This is to apply and extend these explanatory frameworks to the development of conceptual literacy. In this my first task is to offer a synthesis of the six concepts that have been explored in this text. This draws on the key points raised in Chapter 1 and to which I am now adding Colebrook (2000). Colebrook’s primary concerns are to illustrate the value of Deleuze’s thought for feminism. Here Colebrook argues that Deleuze offers an active and affirmative conceptualization of thought that recognizes the creative nature of conceptual formation. Central to this is that ‘In its confrontation with chaos thought creates concepts – so that concepts are the effect of active thought, and not laws by which thought ought to proceed. . . thought must reactivate its concepts: see concepts in terms of effects’ (2000: 8). What are the effects of the concepts in this text? Figure 8.1 lists the varied conceptualizations discussed in this text. I have provided a final column entitled Implications for a Becoming Feminism. My own response, below, should not be thought of as definitive and for this reason I have inserted question marks for you to consider as you think appropriate.

I conclude my response to what I consider are the effects of the concepts in this text by turning to a set of tasks for the development of conceptual literacy. I use this form of words carefully because I find myself in a somewhat countervalent position. It is here that I have to remind myself that in the Introduction to this text I argued for a view of learning that is linked to naivete and openness. On the one hand, therefore, I am conscious that to offer a set of tasks can be read as supplying a closed technological system that may discourage further thought. Once we believe we have ‘learnt’ something, we may see no reason to continue to explore or challenge that learning. Among its other meanings, the term technology, and its associated phrase tool-kit, can convey a form of knowing that Kendall and Wickham (1999: 118)

Conceptualizations Discussed Equality

Equal and the same Equal but different Material (in)equality Group (in)equality Politics of recognition

Difference No difference Equal but different Identity/group differences Poststructural differance Sexual difference Postcolonial difference


Structuring of choice by age, class, ‘race’, disability, sexuality The poststructural ‘choosing’ subject


Woman as carer Care as work – paid and unpaid Care work as divided by ‘race’ and class

Care and disability rights Ethics of care and deconstruction of rights discourses


Linear male time Cyclical feminine time Time and subjectivity Time, space and body


Unity of gendered experiences Experiences of ‘race’, class, sexuality, disability, age

Politicized, reflexive experiences Cyborg experiences (Im)personal experiences


Implications for a Becoming Feminism


Figure 8.1 Conceptual summary


describe as similar to ‘those do-it-yourself wall-filler products that promise certain results if you just ‘‘aim and squirt”, at whatever surface you care to pick’. Kendall and Wickham are rightly concerned that such short-cuts will lead to disappointing and even disastrous results. Their message, which I would echo, is that, just as in home decorating, proper prior preparation is vitally important.

On the other hand, I am mindful of, and very sympathetic to, Alvesson and Skoldberg’s comments:

Postmodernist discussion of – or attempts at – empirical research are rather limited in character. There are a number of general arguments about how not to conduct, for instance, ethnographic research, but more concrete guidelines or example of how it should be pursued are as yet few and far between. Most authors calling themselves postmodernists main­tain a negative approach in this context: like the critical theorists, they are much more articulate and specific about what they are against than about what they are for. (2000: 171, emphasis in original)

It appears to me that an ethically informed pedagogy will be as explicit as possible about the technologies and skills that can be applied to analysis and may be useful to others. Here I therefore outline some key tasks for developing conceptual literacy. These are related to the broader field of critical literacy where the primary objective is to remain open, rather than closed, to the political implications of multiple meaning.