Meet our third conference panel

Translating Feminism


The third panel of Wednesday’s conference centres on ‘Feminist Knowledges and Re-Signification: Global Production and Decolonisation’.


SPEAKER 1. Manasi MS and Thahir Jamal, University of Hyderabad, India 

‘Translating Black Feminism into Indian Textbooks: Emergence of Dalit Feminism as a Critique of Savarna Hegemony’


This paper is an attempt to understand the translation of western feminist writings into the English textbooks for undergraduate courses and their affective influence in the feminist activism in India. This paper take as entry point the contemporary feminist discourses in India, informed by western feminism(s). Both first wave and second wave feminism and the scholars like Mary Wollstonecraft, Virgina Woolf, Margarat Fuller and Simone de Beauvoir were adopted in the textbooks and activist circles without offering an Indian perspective on the same. As Indian academic and activist sphere is dominated by upper caste (savarna) men and few women, the white feminist critiques of the patriarchal social system, though slowly, got a privileged position. However, criticisms towards the first two waves raised by black feminist scholars had a totally different adaptation in Indian context. It pondered the possibility of subaltern critique against the dominant feminist narratives, resulting in the emergence of Dalit feminism. Taking inspiration from the black feminist criticism against universalization of women’s experience, Dalit feminists produced harsh criticism against the savarna feminist’s negligence of multiple levels of oppression.  This allowed fragments of historical memory and knowledge to re-emerge in a self fashioned way, insisting on the necessity to understand context based intersectionalities.   In many ways, scholars have pointed out the problematic connection between knowledge, power and culture (Michel Foucualt, Edward Said, Doyle McCarthy, Nico Stehr, Gayatri Spivak, etc.). Drawing on their frames, this paper asks the difficult question against selective translation and focuses on counter knowledge production initiated by Dalit feminists. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the textbooks under investigation though have incorporated Dalit feminism among literary theories, it still lacks the name of a Dalit feminist. In other words, Dalit feminism largely remains as a collective activistic effort, which is actualized through everyday struggles of Dalit women. While Dalit feminists is debarred entry into academia, Dalit feminism as a conceptual critique remains powerful, so much so that intersectionalities becomes a major focus point of Indian feminists. To make a provocative statement, the paper argues that Dalit feminism, which has non-linear inter-connections with black feminism, destabilized the hegemony savarna feminism, and hence can be seen as decolonizing the feminist scholarship.


Manasi MS is a PhD Research Scholar in the school of humanities at University of Hyderabad. She has a masters in English and M Phil degree in which she analyzed the knowledge translation in the school textbooks to understand the ways of disseminating dominant ideas in India. In her PhD research she is trying to analyze the formation of modern geographical boundaries and their role in the production of dominant discourses.

Thahir Jamal KM is a PhD Research Scholar in the centre for comparative literature at University of Hyderabad. He holds a masters degree specialized in cultural studies and a M Phil degree, in which he traced the shift of communitarian political subjectivity with respect to nation state. In his PhD research he is working on the idea of constitutionalism and community politics.


SPEAKER 2. Pauline Henry-Tierney, Newcastle University, United Kingdom

‘The Second Second Sex: Tracing the Global Retranslations of Beauvoir’


Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe (1949) requires no introduction as a foundational text which has shaped much of feminist thinking in the twentieth century and which continues to provide a cornerstone of reference for articulating and understanding feminist debates of the twenty-first century. A fundamental source of philosophical feminist knowledge, Le Deuxième Sexe provides concrete evidence of women’s societal oppression, delineating the constructed nature of gender through an existential, phenomenological lens. To date, the text has been translated into more than forty languages and thus has contributed to shaping knowledge in discourses on gender and sexuality in a multitude of global contexts. Despite the pertinence of Beauvoirian thought on a global scale, its dissemination, via translation, has, in many cases, been fraught with complexities. A case in point being the 1953 English translation by Howard Parshley, which due to multifarious issues regarding the misrepresentation of Beauvoir’s philosophical argumentation and the substantial cutting of more than 15% of the source text (Simons 1983; Moi 2002), led, in 2009, to its retranslation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevalier. Whilst often the most widely cited, this is not the only example of retranslation of Le Deuxième Sexe and indeed, there have been retranslations in the Chinese, Finnish, and Japanese contexts, to name only a few. In this paper, I adopt a holistic approach and look globally at the phenomenon of retranslation in relation to Beauvoir. I will discuss the contextual details surrounding why Le Deuxième Sexe was retranslated in each locale, considering factors including mistranslation, censorship, socio-cultural temporalities and market imperatives. Mapping out such details across borders will allow me to reflect on potential synergies which underline the impetus to retranslate. Using this analysis, I will be in a position to reflect more widely on the intersections of retranslation and feminist thought, considering how they inflect one another and what the resulting implications may be for how feminist thinkers, such as Beauvoir, are received in a multitude of international contexts.


Pauline Henry-Tierney is a lecturer in French and Translation Studies at Newcastle University, UK. Her research interests revolve around questions of gender, sexuality, and translation, particularly in relation to contemporary women’s writing in French and Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical texts. Recent publications include a book chapter on translating sexual alterity and another on matrophobia in autofictional women’s writing, while forthcoming publications include a monograph entitled, Translating Transgressive Texts, an article on women’s erotic writing and a book chapter on translation and pedagogy.


SPEAKER 3. Cornelia Möser, French National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris, France

‘Michel Foucault and the feminist sex wars: Productive translations as a factor in feminist and queer knowledge production’


In the first part of my communication, I address translation as an important factor in feminist and queer knowledge production. When working on different national contexts, a comparative approach bringing about the particularities of each analyzed context seems appropriate. However, a perspective on cultural translation and travelling theories the way I have adopted it for my research, is not interested in supposed national specificities, but in the role translation plays in knowledge production processes. Although there is always something lost in translation, the existence of untranslatable words and concepts does not hinder knowledge production, it allows for productive and creative readings that are in themselves a mode of knowledge production. In the second part of my presentation, I will give an example for the productivity of translation. Taken from my ongoing research project on the category of sexuality in feminist and queer theories, I will present the complicated translation processes at work in the so called “feminist sex wars”, a feminist debate in the United States in the early 1980s. This name was given to a discussion about lesbian sadomasochism and butch/fem culture as well as pornography, a discussion that divided feminist politics and research in the US in the early 1980s. At the heart of the conflict is an extremely disparate understanding of what sexuality is and how it functions. The so-called pro-sex wing of the debate could be seen as an active translator of what came to be understood as French (feminist) theory. The anti-SM opposition of this faction could be situated in a more materialist theoretical tradition. In analyzing the queer defense of the anti-SM feminists by queer theory scholar Leo Bersani, I will show that not only the lines of conflict are much more complicated. In going back to Michel Foucault’s History of sexuality, I will show the centrality of multiple translation processes in Foucault’s writing even before its linguistic and political translation by feminist and queer theory.


Cornelia Möser is a researcher at the French national scientific research center (CNRS) working on sexuality in feminist and LGBTQ theories in France, Germany and the USA since the 1960s. She wrote her PhD thesis on the feminist Gender debates in France and Germany under a perspective of cultural translation and traveling theories that was published as Féminismes en traductions in 2013 at the Editions des archives contemporaines in Paris. She is a member of the Cresppa GTM research center in Paris, France, and an associated researcher at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin, Germany.

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