Postfeminism as a frame of reference may become accepted in time as an obvious successor to second wave feminism, representing conceptual and theoretical diversity and encapsulating a range of diverse political and philosophical movement for change. Postfeminism, along with postmodernism and postcolonialism, has been important in establishing a dynamic and vigorous area of intellectual debate, shaping the issues and intellectual climate that has characterised the move from modernity to postmodernity in the contemporary world. These anti-foundationalist movements for change have challenged academic culture’s modernist discourses and led to a paradigm shift away from the liberal humanist models of the Western Enlightenment which have framed academic culture’s discourses.
Despite feminism’s modernist foundations, second wave feminism’s interventions certainly posed challenges to dominant academic discourses, identifying a number of ‘sites of struggle’ and opening up a number of ‘sites of resistance’ for feminist discourses. However, second wave feminism was limited by its own political agenda and modernist inclinations.
Postfeminism has emerged as a result of critiques from within and outside feminism. It has encouraged an intellectually dynamic forum for the articulation of contested theoretical debates emerging from within feminist theorising, as well as from feminism’s intersection with a number of critical philosophical and political movements including postmodernism and postcolonialism. What can be seen as the unsettling of the intellectual discipline of feminism by theoretical challenges from its ‘margins’ or, from subaltern discourses, has forced feminism to be more responsive to a range of political and ethical challenges. As Yeatman contends, ‘feminist theory has matured to the point where it is able to subject its own premises to an ironical skeptical and critical mode of analysis’ (1994:49).
The ‘paradigm shift’ from feminism to postfeminism can be seen in a number of different directions: first, in the challenges posed by postfeminism to feminism’s epistemological foundationalism; second, in postfeminism’s shift away from specific disciplinary boundaries; and third, in postfeminism’s refusal to be limited by representational constraints. All these dimensions of postfeminism have been investigated in the chapters of this text. It is Teresa de Lauretis who best captures the shift from feminism to postfeminism:
A feminist theory begins when the feminist critique of ideologies becomes conscious of itself and turns to question its own body of writing and critical interpretations, its basic assumptions of terms and the practices which they enable and from which they emerge. This is not merely an expansion or a reconfiguration of boundaries, but a qualitative shift in political and historical consciousness. This shift implies, in my opinion, a dis-placement and a selfdisplacement: leaving or giving up a place that is safe, that is ‘home’ (physically, emotionally, linguistically and epistemologically) for another place that is unknown and risky, that is not only emotionally but conceptually other, a place of discourse from which speaking and thinking are at best tentative, uncertain and unguaranteed. But the leaving is not a choice: one could not live there in the first place.
(de Lauretis 1988:138-139)