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Critical feminist aesthetics: Explorations in contemporary aesthetics and politics

Purdue University
Publication Date
  • Sociology
  • Theory And Methods|Philosophy|Women'S Studies|Political Science
  • General
  • Design
  • Law
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This project considers longstanding questions about aesthetics and politics in a contemporary context, focusing on feminist approaches. Even while feminist theoretical work has become more commonplace in the sub-disciplines of ethics and sociopolitical philosophy, this has occurred much more slowly in the field of aesthetics. I identify and explore some reasons for this disconnect, articulating features of traditional aesthetics that have been particularly resistant to feminist approaches. Yet rather than abandoning the field as hopelessly anti-feminist. I suggest that feminism has much to gain by addressing anew the foundational questions of the field. I argue that an inter- and intra-disciplinary approach so common to feminist theoretical work would be a more productive methodology in general for philosophical aesthetics. ^ Because the law has been such an important vehicle for 20th century feminist gains in the U.S. I also explore ways feminist approaches in the arts have drawn on key practices and concepts from feminist jurisprudence. I examine some facets of feminist ‘politics of representation’ approaches, pinpointing some implicit anti-aesthetic features of them that I argue can be traced back to key ideas of political and legal liberalism. I suggest that feminism has largely been employing key notions of equality and oppression developed first and foremost through the lens of liberal legal and political theory, and then importing these into thinking about equality and oppression regarding the arts. I try to show how the step of importing such liberal legal tenets—some more feminist, some less feminist—has left much feminist thinking in aesthetics bound to a one-dimensional liberal feminist aesthetics. ^ In the concluding sections I sketch recent efforts toward what I call critical feminist aesthetics, approaches linked by a concern to critique shortcomings of liberal feminist aesthetics. As a further contribution in this direction. I ‘mine’ the field of aesthetics for resources congenial to contemporary feminism. I identify ways the pragmatist aesthetics of John Dewey and the critical social aesthetics of Theodor Adorno, two marginalized approaches in Western modern aesthetics, offer resources for contemporary concerns. Drawing on their work. I suggest some further tasks and directions for critical feminist aesthetics. ^

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