Daly, Lugones, and the Ontology of Freedom

by Jennifer Benson

Jennifer Benson is an assistant professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.  Her teaching and research interests include feminist philosophy, race, whiteness, the social contract tradition and its critics, and modern philosophy.  Starting in August 2010 she will be the Executive Secretary for Midwest SWIP.

  1. Hi Jen–
    Thanks for the paper–I think your characterizations of Lugones and Daly are useful. Also, characterizing the move to suppress recognition of one’s racist self as a move toward purity is great. That adds to the concept. In resisting purity, I don’t just recognize my whiteness, I recognize my racism. This makes my whiteness more complex.

    I have a cluster of questions around the concept of freedom: are we creating moments of being free by resisting purity? Are we always free, but don’t always recognize it? What’s the fleeting part you mention in paragraph 9, recognition, or be-ing?

    I’ll stop now, but I’m look forward to the dialogue.


    • Jennifer Benson
    • April 14th, 2010

    Hi Crista, Thanks for posting comments.

    I think that one of the challenges in working on the topic of oppression is that freedom seems impossible to achieve. On the one hand, that makes sense. We face enormously complex and interwoven barriers that simultaneously liberate some, oppress others, and divide the oppressed from each other. In this context I think it is hard to think about the term freedom doing any useful work. The term is poorly suited to addressing the immediate challenges. So perhaps resistance becomes the more useful term. Here I think we sacrifice the language of freedom in favor of resistance.

    On the other hand, if we think that freedom is a useful term, and then we try to explain exactly what we mean by this and what freedom looks like in the hear and now, then we risk being utopian. I think it is unproductive to offer a fixed definition of what freedom should mean and then speculate on a grand social reorganization that would make such freedom possible. That utopian projection seems likely to reveal more about our current level of cognitive colonization than it is to yield useful tools for achieving freedom.

    On the other hand I’m not comfortable abandoning the language of freedom in favor of exclusive use of resistance. I think I we do this we are conceptually bound to oppression. Resistance as a term always references the problem, oppression.

    I maintain that we need the language of freedom if we are in feminism for the long haul. And I also think we need to conceptualization freedom that allows us to think about it in the here and now. We need more than the language or resistance, we need the language of freedom. But the practice of freedom is fleeting and achieved, not something always already given.


  2. Hi Jennifer–

    Thanks for the reply. I understand why you want to keep ‘freedom’ an open-ended concept. I think it is interesting to say that a focus on resistance keeps us focused on oppression. Ironically, that’s Maria Lugones’ concern with Marilyn Frye’s theory of oppression–that the theory works out a concept of oppression so tight it’s inescapable. So ML used ‘resistance’ as a way of imagining agency in such a circumstance. I wonder if freedom is working the same way. The difference is that freedom doesn’t directly relate to oppression the way ‘resistance’ does.

    I also like that freedom is not utopian. But then I still have the question of whether it’s social or not, and in what ways. Can I have a moment of imagining myself free whether or not others recognize me as such?

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