Sunday, February 7, 2021

Summary: Patricia Hill Collins / Black Feminist Thought

Summary: In "Black Feminist Thinking" Patricia Hill Collins describes the development and ways of shaping African-American political thinking. In addition, she describes the journey of black female intellectuals to the writings of African-American women, in order to raise them to the academic agenda, as well as the importance of the black feminist intellectual discourse today.


Characters that are mentioned a lot: Alice Walker (black feminist writer), Tony Morrison (black writer).

Keywords: oppression (racial, gender and class), activism, tradition, work, family, black femininity and its definitions.

Chapter One: The Politics of Black Feminist Thinking.

As the first American woman to lecture on political issues, Maria Stuart (a black intellectual) called on African-American women to reject the image of the physically and intellectually poor black femininity that stood out at the time, pointing out that racial and sexual oppression was the root cause of this poverty. She therefore encouraged these women to design for themselves definitions of self-confidence and independence as well as to produce a strong mechanism of political action. According to her, this power of self-determination is essential because the survival of these women is at risk. The basis for her claims was that she was aware of the sexual abuse that black women experience.

Maria Stuart is an example of a black intellectual whose words were suppressed and unheard. There are women who were better known, such as Alice Walker, thanks to the efforts of African-American educators. The meticulous process of gathering the ideas and activities of the women who were “thrown aside” (like Stuart) revealed an essential analytical basis of black women’s special perspective on self-identity, community, and society. This foundation has created an intellectual tradition with thematic continuity of black women.

One of the questions raised by Collins is why, then, this intellectual tradition has been invisible until now. Well, repressing knowledge produced by any oppressed group makes it easier for dominant groups to control, because a false absence of free consciousness in the oppressed can be considered as voluntary cooperation in making them a victim.

But despite this oppression, there are women who have struggled and managed to make their voices heard, for example Tony Morrison. This voice promoted resistance and activism of black women.

This dialectics of oppression and activism as well as the tension between the oppression of the ideas of black women and intellectual activism over this oppression, include the politics of black female thinking. More importantly for Collins, the definitions, central themes, and epistemological importance of this thinking were fundamentally established in the political context that I challenged itself to have.

The repression of black female thinking:

This oppression is described by Collins through three dimensions: economic, political and ideological.

Economically, these women are highly exploited in the field of labor ("mules" = mule, black labor: washing, ironing; identified with slavery and with black slavery). They have been systematically removed from intellectual work, and this situation is replicated, passed down from generation to generation.

Politically, the oppression of these women deprived them of rights and privileges such as a ban on voting, removal from public offices, and deprivation of fair and just treatment of the criminal justice system. The large number of young black women in inner cities and rural and poor areas who left school early represents the effectiveness of this dimension.

Ideologically, these women were subjected to false traits (negative stereotypes), which were used to justify oppression. For example: the whore, the "big mother", etc.

These dimensions were designed to keep African-American women in an assigned and inferior place. This system of oppression works to suppress the ideas of the intellectuality among these women and to protect the interests and worldview of the white male elite.

Feminist theory according to Collins also suppressed the ideas of these women. Even today the feminist movement is criticized for being racist and adapted only to issues of middle-class white women. Many white feminists show an unwillingness to change the paradigms that guide them despite the development of black thinking. The historical suppression of black women's ideas has a marked effect on feminist theory, as they challenge the hegemony of the mainstream education on behalf of all women.

Despite all this, even when these black women stood up for their right to speak both as African-Americans and as women, historically they did not stand at the head of African-American organizations. Much of contemporary black feminist thinking stems from the growing willingness of black women to strive for gender equality among African-American organizations.

Forms of activism:

For African-American women, the knowledge gained through the intersection of racial, gender, and class oppression provides an incentive to shape the resistance of black women's culture.

The definition of "black femininity" allowed these women to use African conceptions of the self and community to oppose a negative assessment of that black femininity, which was promoted by dominant groups.

In fact, economic and political bondage created the conditions for black female resistance. While these women worked for white families, they were "outsiders-within." That is, they realized that they would never be a part of them, the whites. In this way, these women have a distant view of the contradictions between the workings of the dominant groups and ideologies. This position of “stranger within” functions to create a different direction of looking at the process of oppression.

The economic, political, and ideological dimensions of the oppression of black women that directly lead to the repression of black female intellectual tradition also foster the continuity of African culture (Afrocentric culture) and the creation of the "foreigner" position essential to black women's activism.

Black Feminist Intellectual Tradition Claim Back:

Current black women intellectuals are busy restoring their intellectual tradition. This claim requires discovery, reinterpretation, and analysis for the first time of the works of black intellectuals who have failed to cross the intellectual mainstream because of their extraordinaryness. It also requires challenging the existing definitions of intellectual discourse.

At the core of black feminist thinking are theories created by African-American women that clarify their starting point, and in fact: the interpretation of experiences and ideas by those who have experienced them.

The requirement of tradition includes examining the everyday ideas of black women, who are not necessarily considered intellectuals, such as artists, teachers, mothers, church members, and political activists.


The position of African-American women in the intellectual discourse in the economic, political, and ideological fields has fostered a unique feminist female intellectual tradition. The thematic content and epistemological approach of this thinking were shaped by "foreign women" on the inside, and by assimilating them into the traditional African-American tradition.

Chapter Three: The Oppression of Work, Family, and Black Women.

One of the central themes of black feminist thinking consists of the analysis of the work of black women, especially the labor market in which they become victims and are considered "mules" (= living machines). This labor market documentation comes to present the general pattern of gender and racial inequality.

By emphasizing the contribution of these women to the well-being of their families, such as family reunification and learning survival skills for children, some educators argue that these women see their unpaid domestic work as a form of resistance to oppression rather than a form of exploitation by men.

Examining the social status of black women does not match existing models, such as a class conflict model, because these models do not apply to their work, which is characterized by agricultural or domestic work (works that are not under a labor union, which the existing models focus on) and therefore seemingly outside the division fields. The existing theoretical class. Therefore the work of these women is another basic field, but also in it dialectical relations of oppression as well as activism appear.

Family and work - challenge the settings:

Racially divided labor markets, gender ideologies in divided labor markets and family units, and the racial, gender, and social position of black women within the capitalist class structure — all of these are embedded in every structure of black women's work. But the scientific models still do not fit them. Their families and way of life challenge hypotheses about a universal nuclear family: the poor family does not match the separation between the public dimension - belonging to work, and the private dimension - belonging to the family. This is because there is a need for support and sharing arrangements between family details.


In contrast to earlier periods, in which black women's work as a "mule" (= black work in today's terms) understood their oppression, in the post-World War II period differences in social status increasingly marked the experiences of black women with racial and gender oppression. Family and work experiences Shaped by the nature of racial, gender and class oppression. The author seeks solidarity between the lower-class black women (the laundresses, the cooks, etc.) and the middle-class women.

There has never been uniformity in experiences among African-American women, and today there are even fewer. What remains as a challenge to black feminist education is to identify the new patterns of institutional oppression that affect black middle-class women and lower-class women differently. If this does not happen, each group may be a tool in cultivating the oppression of others.

check out:

The Laugh of the Medusa / Helene Cixous 
Sherry Ortner /  Female to Male as Nature to Culture?

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Summary of Book 2 of the Second Sex / Simone de Beauvoir

Summary of Book 2 of the Second Sex / Simone de Beauvoir

Book II begins with Simone de Beauvoir's most famous sentence , “ We are not born a woman, we become it.“. De Beauvoir seeks to destroy the essentialism which claims that women are born women, but on the contrary are constructed as such by social indoctrination. De Beauvoir supports this thesis by retracing the education of women from her childhood, through her adolescence to her sexual relations. At each stage, Beauvoir illustrates how women are forced to abandon their claims to transcendent and authentic subjectivity in favor of an acceptance of a “passive” and “alienated” role, leaving the active and subjective role to the man. . De Beauvoir studies the roles of wife, mother, and prostitute to show how women, instead of transcending themselves through work and creativity, are reduced to monotonous existences,

However, a common misconception about De Beauvoir is to believe that the woman is no longer free. It should be remembered that De Beauvoir is an existentialist philosopher, in other words that she considers the ontological freedom of beings to be absolute: man does not destroy woman's freedom by objectifying woman, but he tries to make it one. object. Woman remains a transcendence, transcended by male transcendence, or formulated otherwise: a transcended transcendence.

Nevertheless, and this is all the complexity and subtlety of Beauvoir's analysis, women can be responsible and participate in their own subjection. De Beauvoir thus distinguishes 3 inauthentic behaviors (Sartre would say in bad faith) in which women flee their condition of transcendence in order to fix themselves in pre-determined beliefs and values. These three attitudes, forming as many tables are: the narcissist, the lover and the mystic. These three categories have in common the flight of their freedom for the benefit of the object. In the case of the narcissist, the object is herself, in that of the lover, her beloved, and in that of the mystic, the absolute or God.

Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex - summary

“ Woman is determined and differentiates herself in relation to man and not the latter in relation to her; it is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the subject, he is the Absolute: she is the Other  ”

According to contemporary philosophers, Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex is a revolutionary work, because she is the first feminist who manages to justify her positions by philosophical and historical theses. the second sex has a considerable influence on the generations of women who have succeeded it. De Beauvoir defends the following thesis: male / female inequality is historically and ideologically constructed. Women must take back possession of their destiny, not as a woman, but as a man like the others. Thus, the woman should no longer be "woman", in other words the lower sex, the Other, but a man.

Published in two volumes in 1949, this work immediately found both an enthusiastic audience and very harsh critics. The Second Sex has been so controversial that the Vatican listed it as one of their banned novels.

Furthermore, Simone de Beauvoir argues that human existence is an ambiguous game between transcendence and immanence, but men have had the privilege of expressing transcendence through projects, while women have been forced to repetitive and uncreative life of immanence. De Beauvoir therefore proposes to study how this radically unequal relationship emerged and how it is expressed.

Summary of Book 1 of the Second Sex:

The book is divided into two main approaches. The first book investigates the “Myths and Realities” relating to women generated by anthropological, biological, psychoanalytic, materialist, historical and literary points of view. In each of his analyzes, De Beauvoir rejects causal monism: none of them is sufficient to explain the oppression of woman by man, each participates in the construction of woman as Other of man. Thus, biological differences (pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation, etc.) contribute to the male / female difference but cannot justify the male / female hierarchy. Biology or history is always interpreted from a partial point of view, that of man.

De Beauvoir then analyzes the role of myths in the construction of this ideology of male domination, in particular the myth of “the eternal feminine”. This paradigmatic myth, which integrates multiple myths of women (such as the myth of the mother, the virgin, the motherland, nature, etc.) tries to trap the woman in an impossible ideal by denying the individuality and by refusing the singularity of women and their situations. This myth of the eternal feminine has created an ideal of woman, generating an expectation always disappointed. Real women are thus always seen as burdens, incompleteness.

See second part: summary of Book 2 of the Second Sex / Simone de Beauvoir

Bergson / Laughter - good summary

What does laughter mean? Henri Bergson begins his work on laughter with this simple question. Its intention is to analyze the things that make us laugh, in order to find out why and how they make us laugh.

Bergson limits his field of analysis with three remarks on comedy and laughter:

- Laughter is necessarily human: we laugh at people or things they do, never objects in themselves

- Laughter is purely cerebral: being able to laugh requires a detached attitude, an emotional distance from the object that triggers the laughter

- Laughter has a social function: ” To understand laughter, we have to put it back in its natural environment, which is society, and above all, we have to determine its usefulness, which is social. This will be the guiding idea of ​​all our investigations. Laughter must meet certain requirements of living together. It must have social significance ”( quote from Bergson )

What is the comic?

Logical relationships don't by themselves make us laugh, there is a process that begins with observing an absurdity and ends with laughing at it. Unlike some (Freud in particular, who linked jokes to the unconscious), Bergson does not want to give a psychological or psychoanalytic explanation for laughter. Bergson instead explains laughter in functionalist terms: laughter is a "social gesture", a function with a specific utility in society. In the last chapter, Bergson makes the following remark:

” As the opposing electricities attract and accumulate between the two plates of the capacitor from which the spark will presently light up, so laughter brings people together, attraction and repulsion, followed by a complete loss of balance, in short, by that electrification of the soul known as passion. If man gave in to the impulse of his natural feelings, these outbursts of violent feelings would be the ordinary rule of life. But utility demands that these overflows must be anticipated and avoided. Man must live in society, and therefore submit to rules ”

Society is the product of a kind of evolution: the history of humanity seems to lead towards a more peaceful social life, dominated by the control of our anti-social reflexes. The drama is to let us see inside ourselves, what we would be without society, our hidden nature. La Comédie thus serves society by highlighting our antisocial tendencies and inviting us to laugh at them, which encourages us to correct them.

The social function of laughter

Something mechanical in something living " This is how Bergson defines the comic. This is the main thesis of the work in a compact and abstract form. The argument is difficult to summarize, let's try to simplify it.

Laughter serves as a remedy. It is one of the institutions that allow people to live in society. While there are different types of antisocial traits and behavior, we only laugh at some of them. We laugh at people when they behave in a way that looks like a simple mechanism. Usually we expect people to observe what is going on around them and to adapt their behavior accordingly. When someone deviates from this principle, we laugh at him. Laughter sounds like a call to social order: “ Its function is to intimidate by humiliating .”

In the last chapter, Bergson writes about the character comedy in the theater. Laughter is incompatible with sympathy, so the comic writer must prevent viewers from feeling sympathy for the characters. There are three things that are required to achieve this goal. First the laughable line. Second, the trait must be expressed through gestures instead of actions. Third, and to sum up, the comic character behaves automatically, distractedly. The fault in him is like a switch that external circumstances can set off. So what's the most laughable character trait? The vanity :

“ There probably isn't a more superficial or deeper flaw. The wounds he receives are never very serious, yet they are rarely healed. It is hardly a vice, and yet all vices are drawn into its orbit and, as they become more refined and artificial. It is even more natural, more universally innate than selfishness, for selfishness can be conquered by nature, while only by reflection do we get the best of vanity . ”

Laughter, the unthought of man

From an ethical standpoint, laughter is hardly innocent. The criteria he uses to choose his victims are not moral criteria. Laughter is “ quite simply the result of a mechanism set up in us by nature or, what is almost the same thing, by our knowledge of social life. He doesn't have time to watch where he hits ” . And sometimes the blows he delivers are painful.

Henri Bergson - Summary of main ideas

Hostile to materialist positivism, Henri  Bergson, French vitalist philosopher,  made a return to the immediate data of consciousness, to a pure and qualitative "duration", one of Bergson's central concepts.

Bergson's intuition:

Bergson's influence was considerable. At the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, he questioned both intellectualist philosophies, which claimed to access reality through the exercise of intelligence, and “scientist” solutions, according to which only valid knowledge would be that provided by the sciences.

Now, how can intelligence make us grasp reality?

- It is in the mold of the action that it was cast.

- It does not originally designate a purely speculative faculty, but an active power.

- Considered in what appears to be the first step, it consists in making artificial objects and varying their manufacture.

-          Homo Faber ( man fabricator) before being Homo Sapiens (wise man), the human being first tried to dominate nature and to make it serve its uses.

Intelligence therefore enables action to be foreseen and usefully organized.

- But when a philosopher proposes to penetrate the Absolute (which is perfect in that he is perfectly what he is, which does not depend on any relative symbol), should he not take another path? and try to refrain from methods and approaches essentially adapted to the world of action? (ex: analysis , operation bringing the object back to elements already known, recomposition ...)

- Science is based on intelligence and has applied calculation and measurement processes to matter.

- In doing so, she built useful diagrams and continued into practice, but she did not go beyond the sphere of the relative.

- It has built scientific laws , that is to say constant relations between sizes which vary, without obviously penetrating the Absolute.

By what way can we hope to reach the Absolute?

- We must repudiate not only intelligence, but language , which is intimately linked to it.

- Instrument of intelligence, language represents a set of verbal signs noting things that their most common and most banal aspect, signs fixing and freezing what changes and varies.

- Linguistic signs are just labels stuck on things.

- Words designate genres, general ideas corresponding to a group of beings with common characteristics. They can neither express the real objective nor our deep psyche: like intelligence, they are instruments of action.

Consequently, does not seeing it of immediacy have a privilege over those of the concept, of discourse and of discursive intelligence?

- By an immediate, direct mode of knowledge, by a sympathy making us coincide with what the object has of unique and inexpressible, in a word by an intuition , we penetrate the deep being of the real.

- Intuition represents a return to oneself and to what we authentically are, a return taking place without intermediaries.

Bergson and the interior life: duration, freedom, memory

It is the inner life that intuition will first allow us to discover. And, in fact, intuitive knowledge allows us to rediscover pure duration , the form that our states of consciousness take when our ego allows itself to be lived, when it refrains from establishing a separation between the present state and the previous states.

- Fluid unfolding, pure heterogeneity, qualitative fusion, duration represents the very stuff of our self.

- An uninterrupted, flexible and qualitative becoming, this is what a metaphysical investigation based on intuition reveals to us.

However, this qualitative development is always unpredictable. For the fundamental self, the self revealed to us by the "immediate data of consciousness", is freedom.

- If the superficial self , the part of our psyche modeled by conventions and society, very often amounts to a series of automatism, our authentic interior life, our duration, are in depth, freedom .

When are we free?

- When we go beyond the superficial crust of the linguistic sign, of the words, of the social, when our acts emanate from our entire personality and express it.

- Freedom is experienced through contact with our deep self, through a real agreement with it.

- It is then the ego below which rises to the surface. Freedom is one with the outpouring of the deep self.

Finally, our interior life is memory. Here takes place the famous distinction of the two memories.

- There is a memory-habit , made up of automatisms and motor mechanisms: when I learn a text by heart, I perform and repeat a certain number of known gestures; memory-habit designates a real bodily mechanism.

- As opposed to these automatisms, pure memory is that of my story: the past then survives in me, in the form of pure, unalterable memories, independent of the body. Pure memory contains our past and it represents our authentic spiritual essence.

Bergson and the vital momentum:

Intuition opens us, not only to our spiritual dynamism, but also to the duration of the universe and to the great breath of life.

Just as our inner experience is made up of duration and qualitative changes, just as it is woven by constantly developing threads, so reality is becoming and evolution.

But how to understand this evolution?

-          Bergson rejects both the doctrines and postulates mechanistic of Darwin that the teleology .

- In the first case (mechanism), the psycho-chemical explanation is supposed to suffice, but the mechanism is blind to the thrust of the living, to time, to dynamism. With the mechanism, everything is given and the impetus of life is put on hold.

- But the finalist doctrine (which refers to an intention and a plan which is actualized within life), also puts time and creative becoming in parentheses: it too, as if everything were given initially, by advanced. A preformed intention would explain everything.

Consequently, it is the idea of ​​an original impetus which is offered to us, the living species having diverged from this impetus.

-          The vital impulse indicates an unpredictable creative process, a current crossing the bodies which it organizes.

- Thus, this original impulse of creation invents increasingly complex forms.

- To understand the essence of this vital impulse, let us think of pure duration, which is creative spontaneity.

- The vital impetus is also an invention: it realizes new instincts, organs that did not exist, creating, thanks to its spontaneity, complex and unexpected shapes that simple mechanical combinations cannot explain.

Thus, all of Bergson's analyzes lead him to see in life a creative movement and an effort to go up the slope that matter descends.

Bergson, Morality, religion and art:

The same dynamic perspective illuminates moral, religious and artistic phenomena. The term "open" is fundamental here to unederstand Bergson:

- Is "open" all together escaping the suffocation of a circle of rigid rules opening up to the impetus of life and creation.

- Thus, in open morality, a spiritual impetus is at work.

- While closed morality designates only a fixed set of prescriptions presenting a mandatory character, simple organized products of society, open morality is dynamic: it expresses, not a fixed system of social obligations, but a moral invention, a call linked to spiritual energy.

- The open morality of the saint and the hero takes its source in a momentum and a duration which push forward and shake humanity.

- Likewise, dynamic religion , that of the great mystics, imbued with a surge of love, transports the soul far beyond itself and thus infinitely exceeds static religion , the invention of humanity to defend and guard against the dissolving idea of ​​death and ensure its conservation.

- Dynamic religion, grasped by contact with creative duration, appears immediate experience, in the mystical soul, of the Divine and of God.

Finally, like open morality, like dynamic religion, authentic art designates an immediate coincidence with reality, an unveiling of reality itself, a direct vision of what is, beyond practically useful symbols.

If Bergson's voice and philosophy are not always heard in contemporary culture and the world, nevertheless, his philosophy, of mystical inspiration, has illuminated, in a limpid prose, deep spiritual dynamisms and refers to a metaphysical experience. integral. What, in this perspective, is to philosophize ? To place oneself in the object itself by an effort of intuition and to coincide with it.

Works by Bergson:

  • Essay on the immediate data of consciousness (1889)
  • Matter and memory (1896)
  • Laughter (1900)
  • Creative evolution (1907)
  • Spiritual energy (1919)
  • The two sources of morality and religion (1932)
  • The Thought and the Moving (1934)