2016 — Interview

Particular Universals

Interviewer: Francis Tseng

With: Helen Hester

The New Inquiry

We have also had some more wary, even hostile, responses to the text. A number of people have struggled with the idea of reclaiming universalism as a vector for an emancipatory gender politics, and I completely understand that. Previous attempts to articulate a universal have, as Rosi Braidotti astutely reminds us, been hampered by a willful failure to be properly representative: the universal subject is “implicitly assumed to be masculine, white, urbanized, speaking a standard language, heterosexually inscribed in a reproductive unit, and a full citizen of a recognized polity.” Critics argue that to emphasize the generic is to go against established intersectional practices, and that to engage with the universal is to ignore the significance of difference (including racial difference). We fully acknowledge that intersectional methods have significantly enhanced feminist theoretical approaches, demanding a sustained sensitivity to the possibility of compound privilege and discrimination, and indicating that single-axis frameworks fail to do justice to the full complexity of lived experience. Certainly, xenofeminism seeks to retain the myriad insights of this approach and to apply them to emerging technocultures, but it does not see the need to abandon the universal in order to do this.

Indeed, xenofeminism precisely aims for an intersectional universal–what we describe in the manifesto as a “politics assembled from the needs of every human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical position.” This is in direct opposition to the bloated particularity that has conventionally been passed off as the universal and which has largely cornered the market on popular understandings of the generic since the Enlightenment. The xenofeminist challenge is not simply to reject universality, which we view as having considerable political utility, but to contest for and to re-engineer the universal. This is why we seek to position the universal as a kind of “mutable architecture that, like open source software, remains available for perpetual modification and enhancement.” Far from transcending the concerns of the social, the universal demands to be understood as the perpetually unfinished business of the political. But I can appreciate that we have a lot more to do in order to demonstrate this to some of our unconvinced allies.