«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Consequently, subjectivity can be defined as the sum total of processes, thoughts and behaviours experienced as and undertaken by the subject. As Lisa Blackman, John Cromby, Derek Hook, Dimitris Papadopoulos and Valerie Walkerdine (2008) write, subjectivity is the “experience of being subjected... the experience of the lived multiplicity of [subject] positionings. It is historically contingent and is produced through the plays of power/knowledge and is sometimes held together by desire” (p. 6). The necessarily unfinished business of becoming a subject is evident in this definition. Organizing my research around the concept of subjectivity, I join Blackman et al. (2008) in an effort to “re-prioritize subjectivity as a primary category of social, cultural, psychological, historical and political analysis” (p. 1) and “transformation” (p. 16).
Subjectivity can also be defined as “what we think of as the core of what constitutes human persons, in an ideal, abstract sense.... We are constituted by conceptions of how we relate to each other, and the shape that such relational-self-conceptions can take may be almost unlimited” (Boyd, 2004, pp. 5–6). For Dwight Boyd (2004), human beings have understood themselves in different ways across place and time, however there has been an ascendancy of liberal individualism in Western societies over the past 500 years35—a vision and enactment of subjectivity typified by a “tendency to focus on all forms of social interaction through the lens
of the discrete individual” (p. 6). Boyd (2004) crystallizes liberal subjectivity into four aspects:
ontological uniqueness, symmetrical positioning, intentional rational agency and capacity for transcendence (pp. 9ff). This notion of subjectivity limits peoples’ ability to fathom the existence of hierarchically-positioned groups, let alone see themselves as members of a dominant group and complicit in systems of oppression. This study is an inquiry into the potential ideological blind spot of gendered colonial subjectivity as liberal subjectivity. As I explore in Chapter 3, white settler women have relied on Western liberal notions of subjectivity to “enter” modernity.
This study also sees a correlation between the individual and collective elements of subject
constitution, which Boyd (2004) depicts in his theory of group-embedded36 subjectivity:
a social group does not have ontological status on its own, nor do its individualized members. Rather, it must always and necessarily be understood in terms of some other social group that constitutes a Difference. One “finds oneself” in some particular social group as and insofar as one “finds” the other in a particular contrasting social group. (p.
16, emphasis in original) Along with Boyd (2004), I take subjects to be constituted simultaneously and inextricably as members of groups and as individuals. Subject formation processes are always intersubjective, as subjects are produced in relation to other subjects via discursively-mediated interactions. The question of precisely how the individual subject “finds oneself” (mechanisms of interpellation) has been long-debated in broader discussions about the relationship between Foucauldian (i.e., discursive) and psychoanalytic accounts of the subject/subjectivity—and lies beyond the scope of this study. However, I conceptualize a point of articulation between individual and collective subjectivities, or a kind of “relation between the discursive and the psychic” (Hall, 1996, p. 15).
For my purposes, Meyda Yeğenoğlu’s (1998) account of the collective process in which fantasy and desire operate in the constitution of the Western subject in/as colonial relation is an important theorization of this articulation: “One ‘becomes’ and is made Western by being subjected to a process called Westernizing and by imagining oneself in the fantasy frame of belonging to a specific culture called the ‘West’” (p. 4). In other words, there are psychoaffective37 dimensions to the discursive production of subjects. But, like Yeğenoğlu (1998), “in introducing the concepts of [unconscious] fantasy and desire,” I am “aware of the risk of psychologizing structural processes by reducing them to individual psychological motivations, [but instead] use these concepts to refer to a historically specific construction and to a collective process” (p. 2). In short, I retain a sense of the collective nature of subject formation processes.
Importantly, this study rests on a notion of subjectivity as embodied38 in that the sociallymediated processes that reconstitute the subject over time are enacted in/by/through the body.39 My approach also accords with feminist phenomenological understandings of subjects as socially constituted, holding that the “concrete experiences of real persons” (Larrabee, 2000, p.
384) occur in relation to other embodied subjects. Aligning with the more phenomenological rather than psychoanalytic accounts of subjectivity, I centre a subject’s descriptions of her conscious perceptions and experiences of the world.40 This is in step with Yeğenoğlu’s (1998) theorization of “colonial or Orientalist fantasy” not as “biologically or psychologically innate individual characteristics, but [as] a set of discursive effects that constitute the subject” (p. 2).
I use “subject position” to refer to the socially constructed or discursively derived (and hence impermanent, although often deeply entrenched) roles into which subjects are interpellated in varying ways and degrees, roles that are geographically, temporally and materially contingent.41 Subject positions are inflected with power along socially constructed axes of difference (e.g., class, race, sex, gender, age, ability), an inflection that happens through an interlocking of oppressions (Razack, 1998, p. 13). Subjects can be said to occupy “unequal structural location[s]” that reflect the power configurations of any given society (Moreton-Robinson, 2000, p. 66). Empirical work by feminist postcolonial scholars has explored how subject positions reflect and bestow differential degrees of power (see Anne McClintock, 1995).
From the above, I extrapolate a theoretical premise essential to this study: subject positions are discursively and historically produced structural positions, which endow subjects with varying degrees of power and privilege regardless of an individual subject’s intentionality or behaviour.
As Boyd (2004) argues, subjects are always already embedded in power relations, and are “implicated in relations of ruling” irrespective of their individual sociopolitical stances:
The fungibility of social group members enables... what I call “proxy agency.” In contrast to individualized “liberal” agency, mob members act through each other and as each other. A “proxy” is a person authorized to act for another.... Any given member need not perform a particular act for it to be undertaken in his/her name, as his/her agent.
Even stronger, it is their unavoidable action by proxy that is partly constitutive of this kind of subjectivity because the authorization is itself largely independent of the intentions of particular members of the social group. (p. 18) Thus, subject positions are altered along with the structures of power from which they derive.
An understanding of the links between power and subject position is critical in order to take seriously the assertion that what occurs in intersubjective relations in the solidarity encounter is connected to the institutionalization of white settler power. Perhaps this is Moreton-Robinson’s (2000) problem with the concept of “multiple subject positions”: it has “the effect of equalising subject positions. It fails to connect subjectivity to relations of ruling whereby white racial difference shapes those on whom it confers privileges as well as those it oppresses” (p. xxi).
Following these scholars, I assert that subject positions are not, and cannot be, abstracted from structures of power, but rather are constitutive of and often re/produce them. In short, I take an interdisciplinary approach, which includes critical race, Indigenous and postcolonial feminisms, to theorize power relations between individual subjects as reflecting and often reconstituting the particular power structures in any society. Subject positions can endow and/or strip their bearer with/of power and privilege. With these theoretical notions in place, I proceed from the starting point that Indigenous women and white women enter the solidarity encounter as subjects hierarchically positioned in historically determined, discursively mediated social relations.
Similarly to Moreton-Robinson (2000), I attempt to assess how intersubjective relations in the solidarity encounter reflect and reproduce “the structural relationship between white society and Indigenous society” (p. xxv). I ask if/how white women in solidarity encounters attempt to reinstantiate themselves as atomistic, autonomous Western liberal subjects. Moreover, I also evaluate white women’s capacity to do so in terms of privilege—the privilege to see oneself as an individualistic subject (as opposed to a member of a settler collectivity) (see Chapter 4).
Beyond the compliance–resistance binary My understanding of intersubjective relations in the solidarity encounter relies on demystifying the (possibility of an) autonomous subject. As Saba Mahmood (2004) writes, Despite his attention to the individual’s effort at constituting herself, the subject of Foucault’s analysis is not a voluntaristic, autonomous subject who fashions herself in a protean manner. Rather, the subject is formed within the limits of a historically specific set of formative practices and moral injunctions that are delimited in advance—what Foucault characterizes as “modes of subjectivation.” (p. 28) In other words, subjectivity is highly circumscribed, which exposes the unfettered, autonomous subject as a fiction.42 Moreover, Mahmood (2004) clarifies that “an inquiry into the constitution of the self does not take the personal preferences and proclivities of the individual to be the object of study, but instead analyzes the historically contingent arrangements of power through which the normative subject is produced” (p. 33). (Mahmood notes that this assumes the self to be “an effect of power rather than the progenitor of its operations,” [2004, p.33]). Likewise,
Moreton-Robinson (2000) insists that subject positions are part of broader power structures:
“There are dominant subject positions in society that are implicated in relations of ruling. These subject positions are historically constituted and are represented in discourse through and beyond the activity and experience of individual subjects” (p. xxii). I apply these insights in my reading of participants’ motivations (as expressed in the interviews) for entering into solidarity work. I interpret these discursive renderings as revelatory of the structural power relations at work and not of women’s “personal preferences and proclivities.” At the same time, I draw on several feminist scholars to retain a complex notion of subject agency that would at least allow for the possibility (without guarantees) of subject engagement in non-colonizing solidarity. I see subjects not as passive vessels merely acted upon by discourses, but rather active in the reformulation of their subjectivity; they inhabit (Mahmood, 2004), comply, resist and transgress the subject positions into which they are interpellated to varying degrees and at varying moments, sometimes contradictorily. That is, subjects exercise agency in the continual re-enactment of their subjectivity (which is not to say that their resistance or transgression necessarily alters structural power relations, as I infer below).
For example, Lois McNay (1992) forwards the Foucauldian notion of agency embedded in the idea “technologies of the self,” defined as those “practices and techniques through which individuals actively fashion their own identities... [which] explain how individuals may escape the homogenizing tendencies of power in modern society through the assertion of their autonomy” (p. 3). Nicole Gavey (1989) presents a more qualified view of agency, describing a “discursive battle for the subjectivity of the individual” wherein (women) subjects must position ourselves in relation to the discursive field in which we are ensconced: “Women can identify with and conform to traditional discursive constructions of femininity or they can resist, reject, and challenge them (to a greater or lesser extent)” (p. 464). Similarly, Carol Schick (1998) understands her participants’ agency as contingent upon discursive context and thus understands their language not as “transparent, but... productive of and produced by social relations, including participants own histories and those of the nation” (p. 19).
I ultimately ascribe to the feminist perspective that refrains from conceptualizing agency in terms of a compliance–resistance binary (Mahmood, 2004). As Tine David and Karin Willemse (2014) write, If we resist considering people as either cultural dupes, who only act in accordance with dominant discourses, or as the opposite, namely as revolutionary characters who constantly and completely resist these discourses, we can start to recognize the effort people put in to fitting into these discourses as part of their agency. The conceptualization of agency thus needs to capture both compliance and subversion as part of the processes of negotiating dominant discourses. (p. 2) They go on to discuss the “space for maneuvering” and “the different styles that individuals in diverse contexts employ to integrate and perform different subjectivities within and beyond existing power hierarchies” (David & Willemse, 2014, p. 2). My reading of the data attempts to elucidate the ways in which white women participants in particular, myself included, grapple continuously with our location as white settler subjects.
Reading the data
[A Foucauldian] framework does not preclude us from addressing hegemonic forms of power; it simply forces us to address the fact that struggles for state or economic power are not sufficient to shift prevailing power practices if we do not address how power relations are simultaneously enacted on the microlevel of everyday life.