In the article, Osterweil celebrates the increasing importance in the newest generation of social movements around the world of "the visibility and centrality of critical and reflective practices captured perhaps most famously by the Zapatista phrase caminar preguntando – ‘to walk while questioning’." She goes on to note a couple of instances where she has heard this and other aspects of the sensibilities of these movements connected explicitly to feminism and an image of the feminine. She writes of her excitement about this connection, or this potential connection, but her simultaneous disappointment that our movements, our spaces, and our projects can so seldom deliver on this connection in a substantive way.
Her concluding paragraphs:
For who can deny the transformative and lasting effects of feminism? No, it hasn’t ushered in an age of equality or the end of patriarchy, machismo, or capitalism, but it has profoundly transformed our social relations, our cultural norms, our very ways of being and seeing in the world. Whatever our gripes with its multi-generational manifestations – and believe me there are many – there was/is something about the feminist movement that has made it effective in truly widespread, durable and still dynamic ways: becoming a part of the ‘common sense’ (at least in the global North). I am not claiming that other movements like civil rights, labour, environmental and others haven’t had important effects, but I do think feminism-as-movement – as an ethic and sensibility that forces people to consciously and continuously challenge dominant norms – is quite special.
Yes, feminism has certainly been rife with conflicts, rifts and problems. Open conflicts have taken place between and among women from different economic and cultural backgrounds, of different sexual and gender identities, and from and within different global regions: it is/was continuously the object of critique. However, understanding these conflicts as wholly negative is in part a problem of how we read conflict and critique. For I believe that one of the reasons feminism has been so significant, despite its most problematic manifestations, is precisely because it has managed (or been forced) to really engage the conflicts and complexities that have traversed it throughout its history: conflicts between universalism and difference, cultural values and rights, North and South, etc. And because the multiple and at times contradictory elements that comprised it have subsequently worked to transform the discursive and lived spaces of feminist articulation to life and politics. Some of the most important insights about organising across differences came as a result of the fact that women of colour, queer women, anarchist women and women from the global South (among others) critiqued, seceded and worked to change what was perceived as a hegemonic feminism. While there is no doubt that the critiques must continue and the conflicts still exist, it is also undeniable that they have been extremely productive, if not constitutive of some of feminism’s most important contributions and insights into the nature of power and social change. This ethos and ability – the experience – of engaging the intersectional complexities of life despite, or even with and through, conflicts and differences without falling apart or disbanding was part of what made the Escanda gathering so powerful.
I think that at their best our recent movements have the potential to have similar lived lessons emerge from encounters and even clashes among our different elements. It is that potential people were sensing when they referred to the movement as woman, as new, as exciting. However, while the language of networks, affinity groups and difference have been critical additions to our political vocabularies, they can also quite easily justify a level of complacency and comfort about remaining within our differences – as separate groups. Moreover, while we have imagined and deployed this discourse and rhetoric of difference, becoming and affect, I fear we have forgotten about the lived and messy level of experienced conflict, as well as the time and effort it takes to work through them productively. Recognising irreducible differences, attempting to work with forms of organisation that are more fluid, dynamic and based on affect and pleasure, rather than structure and strategy, are key and important elements of the ‘new politics’, but they are not sufficient. Nor, I would add, is theorising and calling them part of a new post-representational political logic.
Ultimately one of the most important lessons of feminism, as well as of Zapatismo and other sources of inspiration for our new politics, is that the most important insights come from lived and unexpected experiences, including lived encounters with difference and lived experiences of the limitations of certain political models and ideologies. If we only talk and theorise amongst ourselves we are very unlikely to come across encounters that disrupt our ways of doing and thinking. So it is not sufficient to come up with a new narrative of social change: the terms and modality of the conversation must be recast as well. However, we need more people talking, arguing even, to truly change the terms of the conversation. That is why despite my serious reservations about the choice to publish this issue of Turbulence, I feel that it may be OK. Or rather I hope that through its attempt at opening up an ongoing space and project of interrogation and reflection – where it may itself be an experienced object of critique – without trying to definitively capture a snapshot of, or define absolutely an adequate politics for our movements, it could turn out to be a good thing. But only if people engage with it, argue with it, add to it…
Read the whole article!
(Found via this post.)