C h a n d r a Ta l p a d e M o h a n t y
“Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity
through Anticapitalist Struggles
at the urging of a number of friends and with some
trepidation, revisiting the themes and arguments of an essay written some sixteen years ago. This is a difﬁcult essay to write, and I undertake it hesitantly and with humility—yet feeling that I must do so to take fuller responsibility for my ideas, and perhaps to explain whatever inﬂuence they have had on debates in feminist theory.
“Under Western Eyes” (1986) was not only my very ﬁrst “feminist studies” publication; it remains the one that marks my presence in the international feminist community.1 I had barely completed my Ph.D. when I wrote this essay; I am now a professor of women’s studies. The “under” of Western eyes is now much more an “inside” in terms of my own location in the U.S. academy.2 The site from which I wrote the essay consisted of a very vibrant, transnational women’s movement, while the site I write from today is quite different. With the increasing privatization and corporatization write this essay
Copyright Duke University Press, 2003. Excerpted from Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s forthcoming book, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Reprinted with permission.
This essay owes much to many years of conversation and collaboration with Zillah Eisenstein, Satya Mohanty, Jacqui Alexander, Lisa Lowe, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Susan Sanchez-Casal. Thanks to Zillah, Satya, and Susan for their thoughtful responses to early drafts of this essay. Many thanks also to the generous feedback and critical engagement of students and faculty at the U.S. colleges and schools where I have presented these ideas.
“Under Western Eyes” has enjoyed a remarkable life, being reprinted almost every year since 1986 when it ﬁrst appeared in the left journal Boundary 2 (1986). The essay has been translated into German, Dutch, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Swedish, French, and Spanish. It has appeared in feminist, postcolonial, Third World, and cultural studies journals and anthologies and maintains a presence in women’s studies, cultural studies, anthropology, ethnic studies, political science, education, and sociology curricula. It has been widely cited, sometimes seriously engaged with, sometimes misread, and sometimes used as an enabling framework for cross-cultural feminist projects. 2
Thanks to Zillah Eisenstein for this distinction.
[Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2002, vol. 28, no. 2] 0097-9740/2003/2802-0001$10.00
of public life, it has become much harder to discern such a women’s movement from the United States (although women’s movements are thriving around the world), and my site of access and struggle has increasingly come to be the U.S. academy. In the United States, women’s movements have become increasingly conservative, and much radical, antiracist feminist activism occurs outside the rubric of such movements. Thus, much of what I say here is inﬂuenced by the primary site I occupy as an educator and scholar. It is time to revisit “Under Western Eyes,” to clarify ideas that remained implicit and unstated in 1986 and to further develop and historicize the theoretical framework I outlined then. I also want to assess how this essay has been read and misread and to respond to the critiques and celebrations. And it is time for me to move explicitly from critique to reconstruction, to identify the urgent issues facing feminists at the beginning of the twenty-ﬁrst century, to ask the question: How would “Under Western Eyes”—the Third World inside and outside the West—be explored and analyzed decades later? What do I consider to be the urgent theoretical and methodological questions facing a comparative feminist politics at this moment in history? Given the apparent and continuing life of “Under Western Eyes” and my own travels through...
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