Report from Social Justice Feminism Conference

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I just attended the Social Justice Feminism conference sponsored by the Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and inspired by Verna Williams’s and Kristen Kalsem’s Social Justice Feminism, which appeared in 2010 in the UCLA Women’s Law Journal.  Hearty thanks to the conference sponsors for putting together such an inspiring program, continuing the conversation begun as part of the New Women’s Movement Initiative.

The conference was terrific—thought-provoking, energizing—but also unsettling.  As after any good conference, I left with more questions than answers. From Patricia Hill Collins asking what it means to really study and promote intersectionality, to Dorothy Q. Thomas questioning whether one can be both a feminist and a patriot, to Linda Burnham and Barbara Phillips wondering how we as social justice feminists might make our projects relevant to the real people whose interests we hope to serve, a theme throughout the three days was how difficult it is to bridge the divide between the “academy” and the “community.”

The conference did offer inspiration in this regard.  Tracy Thomas’s identification of conservatives’ historical revision of the life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ann Cammett’s  re-imagination of criminal and family law outside the paradigms of Welfare Queen and Deadbeat Dad, and Johanna Bond’s challenging of the “false promise” of gender mainstreaming all suggest that a tentative first step toward praxis might be reclaiming jurisdiction over powerful ideals like justice, patriotism, and truth.

My own presentation, with criminologist Tyler Wall from Eastern Kentucky University, suggested we might use Avery Gordon’s approach and explore the raced, classed, and gendered assumptions inherent in dominant narratives as hauntings—ghostly matters—which are deliberately or tacitly obscured in and by the dominant discourse.

The most valuable aspect of the conference was beginning to tap into the wealth of ideas that can emerge when we take time to explore interconnections among feminists from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds, and perspectives.  Now, to put those ideas into practice….

-Francine Banner

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