Feminism and Cultural Pluralism

Patricia Daley, Henrike Donner
Leandra Bias, Fay Clarke

This seminar seeks to explore the relationship between the ideals of (western) feminism and of cultural pluralism, looking to examples of how tensions between the two discourses have manifested within international politics. Multi-national and non-governmental campaigns against violence proclaim ‘women’s rights are human rights’, yet the discourse of human rights is rejected within many societies as a Western imposition that is at best insensitive to, and at worst wholly incompatible with, indigenous cultural norms. Critical and post-structural theoretical approaches provide intellectual frameworks that help us to make sense of and attempt to work through these dilemmas.

This seminar aims to explore and extend these debates. To what extent have western conceptions of feminism ‘travelled’ and thereby strengthened the power asymmetries between ‘the West’ and ‘Others’? Should ’feminism’ and ‘gender equality’ be considered inherently Western phenomena that risk essentialising women? Can we reconcile tensions between different concepts of gender equality and the rights of individuals? Should we? What does all of this mean for international initiatives to end various forms of violence against women and girls, which implicitly rely on the rhetoric of universal human rights? What role should these concepts play in culturally plural international and domestic societies?

These questions are discussed by Dr. Elizabeth Frazer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, Dr. Patricia Daley, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, and Dr. Henrike Donner, Department of Social Sciences, Oxford Brookes University.

This seminar is part of the Critical Theories and World Politics seminar series, a new student-led roundtable series at Oxford University for interdisciplinary discussion of world politics, supported by the Centre for International Studies (CIS). These seminars draw on approaches from the humanities and the social sciences, explicitly seeking to bring different disciplines to bear on each other and on common areas of intellectual inquiry.

The series seeks to consider questions about world politics using methodological approaches informed by critical theories. We are particularly interested in issues of representation, language and ideology, gender, race, class, memory, space/place, political ecologies, anti-colonial politics, resistance and in thinking beyond and around borders. We hope that the series will provide a forum for 'research training' in these areas for interested students.

Each session is organised by different students, from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, who put forward a theme or topic they would like to see discussed. The format may vary from session to session, but the baseline structure will be a roundtable discussion led by 2-3 speakers and followed by an informal discussion.

This session was organised by Fay Clarke and Leandra Bias, Oxford University.