Analysing bell hooks’ Essay On Marginality From Sandra Harding’s Feminist Standpoint Idea Reader

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Analyzing Bell Hook’s Essay On Marginality From Sandra Harding’s Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader

The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies was published in 2004. In this compendium, Sandra G. Harding, a leading feminist and one of the founders of the “point of view theory” brings together the voices of eminent authors, critical thinkers, philosophers, activists, and academics who question, examine, and present alternative perspectives and “points of view” on issues related to gender, class, caste, race, and sexuality.

That feminist Viewpoint theory perspective argues that one’s social position (point of view) determines their knowledge. The focus is on how traditional scientific truths are ignored and discriminated against excluded women and failed to adopt an intersectional feminist approach. The theory is believed to be rooted in the Marxist Argument that socially and historically oppressed communities possess knowledge to which the privileged sections of society do not have access. A person’s social position can be determined by several factors such as gender, caste, class, religion, race, etc.

Also read: book review | Ain’t IA Woman: Black Women & Feminism By Bell Hooks

Bell Hook: 100 Women of the Year |  timeImage source: TIME

Margin mainstreaming

In Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness (1989), Bell Hooks (lower case is intentional) presents an alternative to perceiving the marginalized. Rather than assuming a patronizing position or vantage point from which the marginalized are “allowed” a voice and a platform of expression, Hooks reverses the conventional order and places the margin at the centre. In an attempt to create a counter-hegemonic space, Hooks asserts that the fringe is in fact the center.

In Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness (1989), Bell Hooks (lower case is intentional) presents an alternative to perceiving the marginalized. Rather than assuming a patronizing position or vantage point from which the marginalized are “allowed” a voice and a platform of expression, Hooks reverses the conventional order and places the margin at the centre. In an attempt to create a counter-hegemonic space, Hooks asserts that the fringe is in fact the center.

The margin for hooks does not include the sidelines or those pushed to the periphery. Rather, it is a space inhabited by the powerful, rendered powerless by hegemonic patriarchal powers. She asserts, “For me, the space of radical openness is an edge—a deep edge. Positioning oneself there is difficult, but necessary. It’s not a “safe” place. You are always in danger. You need a community of resistance.” For Hooks, the “personal becomes political,” even in her conscious and radical decision to lowercase her name. In addition, it is also a pseudonym she adopted to remember her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.

The author of Ain’t IA Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981), Bell Hooks was a pioneer in highlighting the marginalization and devaluation of women of color in the realm of white liberal feminism, and she was an outspoken critic of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. The alienation and alienation of black communities were the areas of inquiry for Hooks, who condemns the ways in which they have been made “exoticized” and “different” within the framework of the androcentric, heteronormative narrative of white colonizers. In her view, the social and world order must be constructed through the fragmented experiences of black people, whose space and location have been the sites of immense struggles. For Hooks, marginality is not necessarily the locus of deprivation or oppression, it is the locus of radical opportunity and a “space of resistance.” In this regard, Hooks recalls the critical theorist, philosopher, and feminist founding force of postcolonial studies, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak argued in her seminal work Can the Subaltern Speak? (1988) on how “the process of being different cannot be resolved simply by giving the vote”.

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Also read: Teaching To Transgress: Analyzing the Work of Bell Hooks Critically Rethinking Education

Both Hooks and Spivak aim to demystify perceptions of marginality. It becomes a starting point for writing (reading, rewriting) new narratives and imagining alternative “new worlds”. It almost seems like a project to decolonize the mind in relation to those parts of society that have been sidelined, almost annihilated by the ruling forces and treated as mere shadows with no history or future.

The difference between subjectivity and agency may seem negligible, but it is not. Because speaking is not the same as being heard. This precise distinction between subject, agency and instrumentality is examined by Spivak through a feminist-Marxist approach. Marginality, therefore, presupposes a sense of power that derives from its powerlessness, as Hooks argues, who claims that it becomes “a place to stay, to hold on to, partly because it feeds one’s resilience.” Both Hooks and Spivak aim to demystify perceptions of marginality. It becomes a starting point for writing (reading, rewriting) new narratives and imagining alternative “new worlds”. It almost seems like a project to decolonize the mind in relation to those parts of society that have been sidelined, almost annihilated by the ruling forces and treated as mere shadows with no history or future. By encroaching on this space, Hooks reclaims it as legitimate. For them, marginality becomes a space of rest and resurrection.

With over 10 years of publishing and journalism experience, Ipshita Mitra holds a Bachelors Degree in English Literature from Miranda House, DU and a PG Diploma in English Journalism from IIMC. She did her MA in Gender and Development Studies and is currently pursuing her PhD in Gender Studies at IGNOU.
She has collaborated with The Times of India, The Asian Age, The Quint, Om Books International, World Monuments Fund India Association and the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). In 2016, her short story Cacophony of Silence was published by Nikkei Voice, a Canadian-Japanese newspaper. In 2020, her short story Bohemian Sailor of the Gulf was published by Sublunary Editions, a Seattle-based independent publisher. The Indian Quarterly (April-June 2021) published her short story Kabuliwala Returns. She writes on books, culture, environment and gender for TerraGreen, The Hindu, Scroll.in, The Wire, Wasafiri, Firstpost, Huffington Post, India Currents and others. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Selected image source: Shondaland