études féministes/ estudos feministas
Interview by Marie- Marie-France Dépêche
Karen Vintges is Lecturer in Social and Political Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. She has published Philosophy as Passion. The Thinking of Simone de Beauvoir (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996 [originally in Dutch, 1992]); Feminism and the Final Foucault (D.Taylor / K.Vintges, Eds., Illinois University Press, 2004), Women, Feminism and Fundamentalism (I.Dubel / K.Vintges, Eds. SWP Publishing Company, 2007) and several other books in Dutch. She initiated and coordinated the research project - funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) - ‘Women and Islam: New Perspectives’ (2008-2013).
MFD – There are multiple feminisms that are effectively acting in the world. What are your orientation and perspectives in relation to feminisms?
KV - I take multiple feminisms as so many creative movements that each in their own context act ‘on behalf of women,’ in a critique of their domination. In other words, I take them as movements that not only criticize current societies but also invent new ways of life and new relationships, on the level of socio-political and economic practices but also of narratives, beliefs and dreams.
During the last twenty years, the postmodern, liberal and Marxist - justified - criticisms on the dangers of identity politics created a climate in which feminisms’ creative and transformative aspects could not come to the fore. I argue for a re-appraisal of the innovative elements of feminist movements, without taking on board a purist type of identity politics. Feminisms offer resources and repertoires that comprise new alternatives for selves and societies and for the world even.
MFD – As a feminist, what does attract you in Foucault’s thinking? In which categories are you more interested?
KV - I am most interested in Foucault’s final work, especially in his critique of today’s neoliberal societies, and his concepts ethical self-fashioning and ‘freedom practices’ that involve alternatives for current neoliberal and other constraining models of self and society. ‘Freedom practices’ comprise - relative autonomous - vocabularies that offer self-techniques, exercises, narratives and models of the self, to create one’s ‘ethos,’ i.e. an ethical way of life visible in one’s actions and behavior.
Foucault in this respect refers in The Hermeneutics of the Subject (2005) to several philosophical schools as well as to some religious groups in antiquity. Elsewhere he speaks about social movements in similar terms. His concept ‘freedom practices’ interestingly synthesizes the individual and collective aspects of our construction and invention of new ways of life. We can never develop our personal ethos strictly on our own: we need vocabularies, and preferably friends and peers. Feminisms comprise exactly such collective settings, that offer vocabularies, self-techniques, models of the self, and peers, thus enabling women to invent new ways of life in a critique of constraining life scenarios. In contrast with the (neo)liberal concept of freedom as autonomy, Foucault’s concept of freedom practices is a cross-cultural one [see Vintges 2004].
MFD – You have published a book on Simone de Beauvoir: which aspects did you choose to work on?
KV - I have worked a lot on de Beauvoir’s ethics which to her is an ‘art of living’ [see Vintges 1996]. Like Foucault, de Beauvoir has articulated a concept of the ethical life as a critical creative practice - visible in one’s acts in the world. We are never a pre-given entity but always invent our ethical selves from our situation. In my forthcoming book, I distill from both Foucault’s and de Beauvoir’s works the contours of a feminist identity politics ‘light’ - in other words of a feminist freedom practice - that allows for a re-appraisal of feminisms’ creative aspects.
MFD – Which are the intersections you can point out between Feminisms and Foucault?
KV - A Foucauldian perspective articulates the diversity of critical creative freedom practices of women, each in their own cultural setting. We can moreover differentiate between women’s freedom practices that are explicitly critical of women’s domination and speak on behalf of women - in that case we deal with feminisms – and others that are implicitly critical of women’s domination, comprising individual ways of life of women that break the mold in many ways. The latter type of women’s freedom practices contain a lot of repertoires and resources for women, and for feminist movements, to get their inspiration from. In my book I discuss examples of women’s freedom practices throughout times and cultures, that Foucault never imagined.
MFD – You are about to publish a book in 2015 under the title A New Dawn for The Second Sex. Could you explain the main argument and its objectives?
KV - In her work The Second Sex  de Beauvoir argued that real changes in the relations between men and women require new societies. From this perspective we need critical creative feminisms - or feminist ‘freedom practices’ as I prefer to call them - that comprise alternative scenarios and idea(l)s for societies.
De Beauvoir, in her lengthy chapter on ‘myths,’ discusses how deep rooted stereotypical dreams and beliefs about women still exist in the hearts of all people. She on the one hand dealt with myths as ‘false’ beliefs, but on the other hand suggested that we need new myths concerning the relations between men and women.
In my book I discuss various practices and debates from the latter perspective, ranging from discourses of Islamic feminism, to the reception of the Twilight Saga by girls and women, and from debates on the headscarf to current discussions on pornography. Next to proposing new guideposts for a global feminism, my book aims to articulate some of the new dreams and beliefs that women already have invented, comprising self-techniques, narratives and models for women’s freedom practices.
MFD – Starting from its argument, what perspectives would it open up for feminisms?
KV - Contra state and market ‘feminisms,’ i.e. - global - emancipatory programs that strive for women’s assimilation to neoliberal models of personhood, conceiving of feminisms in terms of freedom practices allows us to once again recognize feminism’s critical creative potential, as well as its diversity. A global feminism from such a perspective comes down to political coalitions between multiple feminist freedom practices, and their mutual support and endorsement.
Karen Vintges. Forthcoming 2015. A New Dawn for The Second Sex. Women’s Freedom Practices in Global Perspective. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
études féministes/ estudos feministas