Volume: "Transformations without Revolutions?," Volume 2 (2015)
Digital Object Identifier: 10.21431/Z3VC78
A tension between the notions of revolution and the one of transformation lie at the heart of each of the essays in this volume. By focusing on the cases of international feminist and LGBTQI movements, this volume investigates different modalities of social and political change, questions the fundamental definitions in this debate and, most importantly, emphasizes the importance of gender and sexuality as a terrain of negotiation for political alternatives. In so doing, it unsettles the common view of revolutions as radical subversions of the existing order, and on transformations as the results of moderate compromises. Thus it overcomes a simplistic view on the dialectic between normalization and change. In fact, focusing on gender and sexuality opens the way for an analysis of the changes that have taken place within the intimate dimensions of everyday life. Doing so also provides us with the opportunity to talk about the embodied dimension of people’s experiences, and to question the gender biases that exist in the predominant political languages and imaginaries. Finally, it invites us to go beyond factual analysis and to look at the role of collective imagination and shared knowledge, and thus to interrogate how not only actions but also transformative desires can serve as revolutionary tools.
As editors of this volume, we have chosen this theme out of our previous activist and research experiences, mainly located in Europe (Italy, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) and partly addressed to the study of these movements. We became passionate about the languages and practices that feminist and LGBTQI movements have used since the sixties. Gays, lesbians, transsexual and transgender individuals represented themselves as ‘revolutionary,’ in Europe and in the United States. They were upsetting and re-appropriating the insults they used to receive — as ‘faggots’ — in order to build up their own identity in the struggle, pushing social boundaries and the collective imagination towards a new public discourse about themselves, starting from a collective action.1
Likewise did radical feminists who have deconstructed and reworked the main aspects of women’s lives: family, marriage, coupling, motherhood, sexuality, prostitution, and domestic work. In doing so, they have thoroughly interrogated issues such as the separation between the private and public spheres, social reproduction, and the very notion of politics.2
In this light, we wanted to explore the achievements of these socio-political movements, after fifty years, and to ask whether their legacy is still a part of the languages and imaginaries of feminist and LGBTQI movements today, and in which way they have changed their self-representations. On the one hand, we wanted to know whether or not we are still searching for a ‘revolutionary’ perspective when studying these types of movements. On the other hand, our questions were focused on the changes taking place within the movements themselves, and whether or not they still express a desire for ‘revolution,’ whether they still use the revolutionary language of their activist forebears, and what specifically has changed in the ways in which ‘revolution’ has been conceptualized by these activists during recent decades.
One aspect we wanted to consider is the way narrations have changed over time, and whether or not activists’ self-definitions as revolutionaries is motivated by a specific socio-historical moment in which the use of a ‘grand revolutionary narration’ had become mainstream, considering that afterwards this was followed by more fragmented, postmodern narrations of change and conflict, in an anti or after identitary fashion, radically different from the more identitarian approach of the sixties and seventies.
The same anti-identitarian perspective could also apply to other spheres as well, such as labour, the arts, sexualities, pornographies, and individual and collective agency. Politics as such has gone through a profound transformative process during the last fifty years. For this reason we were determined to investigate the dialectic between feminist/LGBTQI movements and trade unions, as well as those political parties and traditional movements which had identified ‘revolution’ as their primary objective.
We also wanted to further explore the ways in which these movements attempted to rethink the knowledge domains of the humanities and the physical sciences, in an attempt to elaborate new paradigms more influenced by a gendered and a feminist perspective. In the essays contained in this volume, stretching from History to Physics, attempts are made to revise traditional methodologies and to promote new gendered epistemologies. Next to these more theoretical issues, this volume looks at the practices that have accompanied these processes, thanks to contributions based on archival and oral sources, which are crucial to support the necessary exploration of feminist and LBGTQI languages and experiences as they are embodied in everyday life and in their capacity to transform personal relationships.
The Recent Debate
This volume is very timely, given the resurgent popularity of ‘revolution’ as a matter of debate in the last couple of years. The word ‘revolution’ has been increasingly used (and probably also misused) to describe many of the political and social changes that have taken place across the globe in recent years. From the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in Northern Africa in 2011, to the ‘Bolivarian Revolutions’ in South America during the last decade, and, finally, to the recent elections in Greece in January 2015 that some have already begun calling the ‘Greek Revolution,’ it is clear that the notion of revolution is spreading in ways that were unimaginable until very recently.
The renewed popularity of the notion of ‘revolution’ has pervaded debates on gender and sexuality, of which we would like to briefly mention a few examples. In 2012, Minky Worden edited The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012). Despite being fiercely critical of the current situation and describing the many impediments to the improvement of women’s conditions, the book still delivers an overall positive message, in the belief that, although a lot still remains to be done, significant accomplishments have been realized (“the unfinished revolution”). By continuing in the same direction, it is hoped, further progress can be achieved.
Of a different kind is the contribution given to this debate by the renowned feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser in Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (New York: Verso, 2013). In a polemic with more common reflections on the relationship between feminism and social change, Fraser suggests what she calls the “disturbing possibility” that “the cultural changes jump-started by the second wave [of feminism], salutary in themselves, have served to legitimate a structural transformation of capitalist society that runs directly counter to feminist visions of society”.3 In Fraser’s view, the actual persecution of feminist goals4 has ultimately gone against their original intentions by unwillingly providing “the ingredients of the new spirit of capitalism”.5 Fraser’s position thus leaves us substantially empty-handed. The revolutionary character of feminist ideals seems to vanish from our view, and it is difficult to imagine alternative ways to rescue it for future use.
Between these two extremes, we find an important opportunity for further exploration in a special issue published in February 2014 by the journal Feminist Review. The title of the editorial “Re-imagining revolutions” says it all. Indeed, guest editors Rutvica Andrijasevic, Carrie Hamilton, and Clare Hemmings make explicit the need for a more nuanced, fluid view of the relationship between gender and revolutions. They have analysed the occurrence of different “revolutionary moments, movements or impulses” in order to explore “the difference that gender makes both to revolutions themselves and to how we conceive them”.6 Their focus is more precisely “the gendered politics of revolution as a concept and a practice”.7
As this volume of Feminist Review also reveals, the time is ripe for the resurgence of the word “revolution” – yes – but also for its trial. Decades of feminist practices and theories, developed in different ways and in distant parts of the world, make it possible today to discuss the concept of revolution in a complex and critical manner. Discussing gender, sexuality, and revolution is thus an enterprise of critical thinking in which none of these notions involved remains untouched. The question is indeed whether or not the theories and practices connected to revolutions have been challenged by feminist and LGBTQI politics, but also if the opposite has occurred.
Our fist opportunity to enter into these important and open-ended debates occurred when we organized a panel at the annual symposium of Storie in movimento (SIM, Histories in Movement) during the summer of 2013. SIM is Zapruder World’s parent organization that mainly gathers historians and social science researchers and activists working inside and outside the Italian academia. The panel was ‘global’ in its geographical scope, insofar as speakers presented cases from different parts of the world (Latin America, USA, Europe).
Building on our panel at the 2013 SIMposium, this volume has gradually grown over the past two years, incorporating further contributions from scholars and activists working in different parts of the world and on a broad array of topics. A feminist re-reading of the notion of revolution is provided by Barbara Biglia and Dominique Grisard with particular reference to the experience of the Pink Bloque in anti-capitalist street demonstrations in Chicago, IL. The relationship between larger political projects and feminisms is discussed by Silke Heumann for the case of Sandinism in Nicaragua; by Emilie Breton, Sandra Jeppesen, Anna Kruzynski and Rachel Sarrasin in relation to Anarchism in Canada; and by Norma Claire Moruzzi for the case of the “Arab Springs” of 2011. More focused on the history of gay, lesbian, and queer movements are articles by Elena Biagini on the history of the Italian LGBTQI movement and the question of same sex marriage, Peter Drucker on the critical positioning of the queer movement against LGBTQI positions in the last 30 years, and, finally, Cesare Di Feliciantonio on the transformation of urban spaces associated with lesbian and gay communities in the Global North. Two additional articles focus on the way feminisms have brought about transformations in larger societal issues. Valeria Ribeiro Corossacz discusses the impact of Latin American feminisms for the improvement of sexual and reproductive rights in the region. Elisabetta Donini, on the other hand, provides an analysis of the (not always successful) attempts to promote a transformation of scientific paradigms and research in a feminist perspective.
To further enrich the volume, we asked Eileen Boris to compose the volume’s Afterword. She has provided a courageous reading of the articles with a critical approach, encouraging readers to continue dreaming of revolutions and collective action.
We also need to mention the sections of this volume that open to a multi-dimensional way to explore the topic of this special issue. In Yesterday, we selected some links to archives, contemporary research, documents collected by authors and referees that demonstrate the wealth of resources worldwide, which are often an historical expression of the movements themselves. In Today, collected with the same procedure, we can look at the arts, literature, photography, activism, networks, perhaps tomorrow’s archives and another way to explore how languages and topics have changed.
These articles together highlight the importance of considering the struggle for gendered transformations in relation to a plurality of feminisms, instead of only one. For this reason, in the volume’s title we use the plural “feminisms” and, most importantly, we merge together the case of political groups which identify themselves as feminist and those that identify as LGBTQI groups. In fact, the primary emphases of this volume are transformations concerning both issues of gender and sexuality, considered as the converging ground of intervention for feminist and LGBTQI groups. Gender and sexuality, however, are not considered in isolation from other social categories, such as race, class, age, etc. On the contrary, the articles included in this volume incorporate the interrelation between different social dimensions, depending on their specific relevance for the social context of the case under study, into the broader discussion.
Secondly, given the specific scope of Zapruder World, this volume reflects a ‘global history’ approach. This means trying to keep together two different perspectives of analysis. The first one is the historical perspective which, in this volume, begins in the 1960s and continues into the contemporary period. This analysis also reflects a feminist approach to history which problematizes the public/private dichotomy, politicizing the personal and emphasising the impact of the intersectional construction of difference in individual relationships as well as in structural inequalities. The second perspective is the one which stresses the need for a truly global perspective on social phenomena. This is a perspective that does not simply compare geographically distant cases but which elaborates on the transnational character of these transformations as such.
The dimensions of time and space in our editorial work were addressed by the awareness that we were facing both an historical and a present perspective, and also that movements developed trans-locally and transnationally, with contacts and exchanges that crossed borders. Therefore, we should avoid at all costs reducing these analyses to just a national dimension. And so we offer this perspective to the still open debate about global history inside our journal,8 within a collective process through which we aim at gradually being able to apply this approach in our own work, in order to be able to account also for diasporic movements among and within feminisms and the broader debate regarding eurocentrism and nationalism within the historical discipline offered by postcolonial studies. We also hope to emphasize the importance of gender studies within research on these issues, particularly addressed to rethinking borders and nationalistic analytical frames in contemporary history.
In this perspective, feminist and LGBTQI groups across the world might have shared common ideals and followed similar patterns. They might have been similarly conditioned by larger transformations taking place in socio-economic and cultural fields at the global level. However, their stories might also differ depending on the specific context. They might even be in opposition. Yet, to investigate these interconnections is not an easy task and our goal has remained largely unaccomplished. More methodological and theoretical developments are needed in order to provide a truly global approach to the history of feminist and LGBTQI movements.
In conclusion, what characterizes each of the articles in this volume is the desire to pursue this goal further, inaugurating a reflection about the importance of this approach in this specific field of study. This is thus only the first step in a conversation that, we believe, could be enriching for all academics and activists involved.
- Regarding the origins of this mobilization, we can mention the Gay Liberation Front (GLF, started in 1969) in the United States, the Front Homosexuel d’Action Revolutionnaire (FHAR, started 1971) and Gouines Rouges (GR, started in 1971) in France, and the Fronte unitario omosessuali rivoluzionari italiani (FUORI, started in 1970) in Italy, each of which openly adopted revolutionary practices and surpassed the former homophile approach. It is also important to mention people and texts, such as Mario Mieli, Elementi di critica omosessuale (Turin: Einaudi, 1978) and Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critic (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1980), and the essays by Monique Wittig, such as in Le corps lesbienne (Paris: Les editions de Minuit, 1973).
- In the huge collection of texts and experiences, from the women’s liberation movement and its homologue in France and radical and less radical feminisms in Italy, we would like to mention Our Bodies Ourselves by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (Boston: New England Free Press, 1970), Combahee River Collective Statement from the Combahee River Collective (1977), and The Manifesto by Rivolta femminile (1970).
- Fraser, Nancy, Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (New York: Verso 2013), p. 211.
- There has been quite some debate, especially amongst black and postcolonial feminist thinkers, against the generalization operated by Fraser when talking about ‘feminism’. For an example, see Brenna Bhandar and Denise Ferreira Da Silva here: http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/10/21/white-feminist-fatigue-syndrome/
- Fraser (2012), p. 210.
- Andrijasevic, Rutvica, Carrie Hamilton and Clare Hemmings (2014) “Editorial. Re-Imaging Revolutions”, Feminist Review, 106, p. 1.
- Andrijasevic, Rutvica, Carrie Hamilton and Clare Hemmings, (2014), p. 1.
- See the debate inside the Journal here https://zapruderworld.org/content/editorial-board-forward-zapruder-world-project; and the introduction of the first issue https://zapruderworld.org/content/editorial-board-introduction.