Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"Parting company with the opinion of the world": Shame and political agency in nineteenth century feminist activism
by Popa, Bogdan G., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2014, 229; 3617866
Abstract (Summary)

Liberal feminist theorists such as Martha Nussbaum restrict agency to conventional strategies, but in this dissertation I claim that feminists need to understand the value of other, unconventional performative tactics that can open up feminism to radical interventions. I not only support Judith Butler's claim about the need for "non-state-centered forms of agency and resistance" but also historicize the emergence of nonliberal strategies of political contestation, particularly in Victorian feminist activism. Although Victorian feminists are traditionally associated with liberalism, and figures such as John Stuart Mill and Josephine Butler have been used to criticize post-structuralist theorists, I show that some of their practices and interventions reveal a radical, nonliberal aspect to their feminism that strengthens the post-structuralist call for creative and innovative practices of democratic action. Nineteenth-century activists imagined various types of sexual and affective relationships that undermined the privileged role of the institution of marriage. They also used shaming and humiliating language to challenge traditional gender roles and produce profound social transformations.

Building on the activism of these Victorian feminists, I develop a conception of agency that politicizes tactics such as the use of shame, humiliation, silence, and nonconventional relationships. Because the liberal understanding of shame is insufficient, I offer an alternative queer conception that challenges the perception of shame as destructive. The central element of this conception is that shame not only generates negative feelings and low self-esteem but also has an important capacity to provoke political activism, such as strategies for resignifying political norms that excluded sex and gender marginals.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Scheuerman, William
Commitee: Craiutu, Aurelian, Hanson, Russell, Robinson, Jean, Simons, Jon
School: Indiana University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 75/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Political science, Gender studies
Keywords: Activism, Feminism, Mill, John Stuart, Queer, Shame, Victorians
Publication Number: 3617866
ISBN: 978-1-303-85703-4
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