Jana Cattien


Feminist standpoint theory is an important tool of many a feminist activist. It provides us with the epistemological justification to take women’s experiences seriously – not as an obstacle to “objectivity”, but as a form of epistemic privilege. This paper takes postmodern and intersectional critiques of feminist standpoint theory as a critical point of departure to re-examine the debate around the relevance of the signifier “women” in feminist epistemology. Its aim is two-fold: first, it seeks to shed new light on these criticisms by using the lived experiences of mixed-race women as an innovative lens through which to examine the issue of fragmentation in feminist epistemology. Specifically, it will use the unique situation of mixed-race women to explore the underlying logic of fragmentation implicit in these criticisms – both in the sense of depicting a fundamentally fragmented society structured by complex and overlapping social categories, as well as a fragmented individual forever torn between contradictory pulsations. Second, the paper then goes on to problematise this splitting of the feminist project, and attempts to sketch a politically viable strategy for feminist epistemology which counters the danger of fragmentation inherent in postmodernism and intersectional feminism without giving in to the temptation of essentialism. Notably, it will argue that the notion of “women” retains its usefulness for a feminist agenda, and can incorporate a greater attentiveness to diversity, if it is conceptualised not ontologically, but rather, as a strategic and historically specific point of departure for politics. In this context, I will propose an understanding of the notion of “women” in the sense of a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance concept” – that is, a concept whose boundaries are fluid and whose elements are linked to each other in a variety of overlapping, criss-crossing ways.

Note on the Author

Jana Cattien is a PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her research critically examines the complex intersections between nationalism, racism and feminism in Germany in the context of the current ‘refugee-crisis’, and is funded through a SOAS Research Studentship. She holds a Master of Philosophy (with Distinction) in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies from the University of Cambridge and a Bachelor of Arts (First Class) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Durham.