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Ruth Cardoso Chair: subjectivity, politics and ethics: practices of the self in American and Brazilian feminisms

Grant number: 10/08012-0
Support Opportunities:Scholarships abroad - Research
Effective date (Start): August 23, 2010
Effective date (End): May 23, 2011
Field of knowledge:Humanities - History
Acordo de Cooperação: Capes-Fulbright-GU-Dr. Ruth Cardoso Program for Fellowships in Anthropology and Sociology
Principal Investigator:Luzia Margareth Rago
Grantee:Luzia Margareth Rago
Host Investigator: Pablo Piccato
Institution abroad: Columbia University in the City of New York, United States
Host Institution: Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas (IFCH). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil


My research focuses on the American feminist theorizing on subjectivity, politics and ethics, considering the reflections on the "final Foucault", and the uses of his concepts for feminist political agency. The direct contact with American specialized research centers and with feminist authors and groups provides the resources to develop the work around two intertwined poles. On a historical and theoretical level, I investigate Foucault´s experience in the US and ask how it affected his own philosophical work. On a thematic level, my interests surround the "politics of subjectivation" that feminists have created in everyday practices and how they theorize them in the United States, and more recently in Brazil. Finally, this research is aimed at informing historical studies on Brazilian feminist current practices of subjectivation, that also implies new relationships to the others. Feminist politics of subjectivation is a matter of great importance when we consider the obstacles to construct public sphere in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, where the culture of the private world has been superposed on the public, since the very beginning of Portuguese colonization. Historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda, in Raízes do Brasil diagnosed this very problem by naming the prevailing privative and authoritarian subjectivity as "the cordial man", referring to powerful landlords who commanded politics at their will. This culture has prevailed in Brazil and other parts of Latin America for centuries raising obstacles to important social changes. Only in the last four decades, it has been sharply challenged by left-wing groups, parties and by the "new" social movements, as they were called in the eighties. The production of libertarian individuals has been a challenge also to feminism, if we accept that it has come to liberate women from the identity they were supposed to embody and not to replace the “cordial man by the "cordial woman". In countries like the US, this is also an important issue concerning the need of political men able to give different answers beyond making war. Every country needs individuals, be it men or women, formed to care for the public as well as for his own self. Discussing subjectivity is a question of politics and social change, in that perspective. Feminists have asked for the subject of feminism in many countries, but undoubtedly this is a question that American feminism has developed in an exciting outstanding literature, such as Judith Butler´s, Lois McNay´s and Margaret McLaren´s works show. In Brazil, some articles have been published on this subject not necessarily approaching Foucault and feminism. Anthropologist Claudia Costa Lima, for example, strongly referred by American feminist debates, discusses the deconstruction of the subject in feminist theories, but shares the traditional criticism to Foucault´s conception of a subject seemingly incapable of moral and political agency. On the other hand, historian Tânia Swain, inspired by French feminist theories, has published some articles approaching Foucault´s concept of "sexuality dispositive" and "practices of the self" to the feminist criticism of the naturalized sexual identities and normative heterosexuality. It´s worth remarking that Brazil has just started to live an experience of democratic reconstruction, of a greater individualism and of multiculturalism that Americans have been living for a long time. So, it is undeniable that Brazilians have much to learn from that experience of subjective change and of criticism of old hierarchical patterns of behavior that comes from the North, even if we note that different realities require diverse forms of use of what has been imported, be it a concept, an idea or any other product. (AU)

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