PHIL 242 - “Contesting Cultures”
- Uma Narayan
WESTERN VALUESAND OPPRESSION
- Let courts weigh Charter of Quebec Values, poll shows Majority wants constitutionality tested
- BY CHRISTOPHER CURTIS, THE GAZETTE SEPTEMBER 21, 2013
- propose to prohibit people of wearing highly religious symbols if they want to receive services
IRIS YOUNG REVISITED (WESTERNIZATIONAS OPPRESSION)
- “To be in a group is to share with others a way of life that defines a person’s identity, and by
which other people identify him or her...Asubject’s particular sense of history, sense of
identity, affinity, and separateness, even the person’s mode of reasoning, evaluating, and
expressing feeling are constituted at least partly by her or his group affinities.”
- “Cultural imperialism consists in the universalization of one group’s experience and culture,
and its establishment as the norm. Those living under cultural imperialism find themselves
defined from the outside, positioned, and placed by a system of dominant meanings they
experience as arising from elsewhere, from those with whom they do not identify and who do
not identify with them.”
FEMINISM AND WESTERN IDEALS?
- (i) the ideals of universal human rights, and
- (ii) philosophical treatments of freedom and equality
have a special relationship to European history and to certain kinds of Western society?
- Do you have to choose between feminism and anti-imperialism?
- Too many of these debates focus on what Western countries should do about outside practices.
- Narayan’s paper asks a refreshing, different question, about how non-Western people should
make sense of their own cultures.
- In particular, how is contesting your culture related to respecting it?
- if they are opposites, then it makes sense to want to keep multicultural societies and
- but Narayan sees the two as interconnected
THE NATURE OF CULTURAL GROUPS
PROBLEMS DETERMINING WHETHERAPRACTICE ‘BELONGS’TO ACULTURE OR
- Cultures are varied at any given time (“synchronically”)...
- ...and they also change over time (“diachronically”).
- “Indian feminist protests responded not only to the particular incident that captured national
attention... but to the widespread adulation and public celebration her act provoked, which presented engaging in sati as conformity to ‘traditional’spiritual and religious values, and part
of ‘Indian heritage’.
- This construction of sati as a practice central to ‘Indian culture’flies in the face of historical
facts. Even in colonial times, sati was practiced only in very limited areas of the country, and
by women of some particular castes. The majority of the 8,134 satis recorded between 1815 and
1828 took place in the vicinity of Calcutta.... [S]ati was never a widely practiced Hindu
tradition, let alone an Indian one.”
- Fierce protection of Indian traditional practices co-exists with changes in marriage, clothing,
ATRADITION OF CRITICISMAND CHANGE CAN BE PART OFACULTURE
- “I find it impossible to describe ‘our traditional way of life’without seeing change as an ever-
present constitutive element, affecting transformations that are most surprising when they seem
to become “invisible” in their taken-for-grantedness.”
- (Compare a related claim by Will Kymlicka about Canada and other Western countries: that
openness to difference and multiculturalism are parts of our cultures.)
WOMEN’S SILENCEAND OBEDIENCEAS AN INDIAN VALUE (OR NOT?)
- “The shape your silence took is part of what incited me to speech.”
- Mother understands silence
- ...as silence in the face of harassment and misery...
- ...and as silence in front of men, which can be complained about to women...
- i.e. recognition of the wrongness is built into the culture too.
- So even as practiced by Narayan’s mother, the traditional practic