It is a cliche, but a truism, that we live in troubled times. As a society, we face a host of major problems – inequality and poverty, decaying social fabric, insecure and unfulfilling labour, mental distress, rising nationalism, authoritarianism on the left and right, and extreme environmental degradation. All of these are symptoms of the dis-ease of a culture organised by domination, hierarchy, narcissism, material exploitation, and the value of profit-over-people. All of these are symptoms of the dis-ease of patriarchal power.
At the same time, the form of deep feminist thinking which could help us imagine how to move forward has been all but erased from popular and academic discourse and replaced with a feminism which has abandoned the analysis of patriarchy and offers no real challenge to male dominance. This patriarchy-pleasing backlash is a tragedy for individual women, for the cause of women’s rights, and for the thinking of the social transformations that would accompany the true liberation of women. But this tragedy is also a chance. A chance to put re-energised grass-roots feminism to work. To relearn the history of the women’s movement, and to remake its future.
Thinking the Past
Popular third-wave and queer feminist discourses have little respect for the past. The history of the second-wave has been turned into a flat caricature, and decades of women’s thought and activism dismissed as interested only in the advancement of middle-class privileged women. While critiques of liberal, reformist feminism are absolutely warranted, the effect of this caricature has been to erase the depth of the second-wave analysis of patriarchal power, and it is unsurprising that, in recent years, this form of feminism has been widely embraced. Given that the university has abandoned its role as the custodian of past feminist thinking, the first function of The Institute of Feminist Thought is to give people of all ages and backgrounds a chance to engage with the key-concepts of the second-wave, to explore them in conversation with others, and to reflect on what we still find vital, illuminating, and indispensable.
Thinking the Future
The second aim of the Institute is to begin weaving together, collectively, the strands of past thinking into an analysis of the present, and a feminism for the future. The second-wave was a massive and diverse tradition, and had its fair share of internal conflicts. My hope is to take the central insights from radical, socialist, Black, psychoanalytic, philosophical and eco-feminism, and pull them together – to develop a feminist analysis which illuminates the inter-relations of male dominance, narcissistic entitlement, rape culture, capitalist exploitation, environmental appropriation, and racialisation, and gives us the tools to think the future otherwise. This is work I would like us to do together. Initially through online classes, but moving forward, through conferences, day-schools, podcasts and publications.