dolores: Very briefly, what do you mean by the term or concept of "nomadic subject"?
Braidotti: "Nomadic subject" is not a concept, it is a roadsign. It is an intervention on a certain imaginary that contemporary philosophy has, an imaginary that is either the classical philosophical imagination of a subject that is fully conscious or, at the other extreme, is the fully deceptive and completely decentered subject of postmodernism. Neither one of these options is really satisfactory. I need something that is in process in between those positions.
It is an exercise in positioning. "Nomadic" is a reference in philosophy to Deleuze and through to Nietzsche. But I don't want to leave philosophy to the conservatives. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is an eminent nomadic tradition in Western philosophy. It is a minority tradition which institutions deny and which most people don't want to think about, but it is absolutely there. As a feminist, I find it very important because it is a tradition that is very critical of rationalism and of all the illusional transcendentality which is so dominant.
Nomadism is also about getting philosophy to move out of itself and to stop being so self-referential, but to start a series of dialogs, of transdisciplinary connections with other discourses.
Philosophy is pretty dull, it is pretty repetitive, it is pretty institutional, it is pretty sedentary. But there is a lot of philosophically relevant material elsewhere: in the arts, in architecture, in the media, in feminism, in anti-racism, and various other cultural practices. This is an invitation for philosophy to enter into dialogs and stop being a prisoner of its own library.
There is something about a claustrophobic self-referential Euro-centered philosophical thought that is not living up to the challenges of multiculturalism and the kind of societies, which we've already become. I'm working on the assumption of a world where mixity and hybridity are here to stay. It is important also for Europeans to acquire an ethnicity, for white people to acquire a location, for us to stop pretending that we are the universal subjects of some sort of disembedded philosophical position and to acquire a position, becoming paradoxical. Nomadism is about being situated, it is about being from somewhere and being very aware that you are from that particular location. You are then capable of moving, of getting into dialogs. People, who are universal, can' t do that.
It is also an appeal to feminism to work with different concepts. It is an invitation for an alliance between feminism of difference and feminism of diversity, feminism and technology, feminism and anti-racism.
dolores: In your book, you mentioned a bond of communality, a common condition of sisterhood. We were trying to figure out what that means for you. This bond of communality, does it mean that the main line or the main difference you see in humankind is men-women and that this bond of communality is something that relates to gender or to sex?
Braidotti: Several people have asked me that question and also have criticized me for it, like in the interview with Judith Butler. Butler asked me, "Do you really give feminism a higher value than cognitive value than other philosophies?" I would have said that that is absolutely the case: that I do give a priority to women. I don't know about gender. I don't know if I am too happy with gender. I don' t even know what it means.
My focus is sexual difference, my focus is the females of the species. Having said that, I've said very little since there is no such a thing as a uniform and perfectly integrated and accountable category called women. There are enormous differences but I don't want the differences among women to override common concerns. I can also see the importance of deconstructivist philosophies---the way that they get rid of subjectivity, the kind of de-essentialisation they accomplished, the kind of new political subjectivity they empower. But when I look at it from the position of my gender as a historical category, very little of that does me any good. So, I always say, "Yes, but ...".
This bond of commonality is made of these points of resistance, it's made of a set of structural contradictions: being a feminist in your thinking as opposed to being a feminist in your life because there are women who think mainstream and then they are feminists after hours. You have to look case by case at what this would mean. When a black woman is being discriminated against, is she being discriminated against because she is black? It is a little bit of an academic question. It just so happens that it is mostly women and black women, who are discriminated against, it is women and black women who get raped.
My bond of commonality is made of identification and memory. I am someone who thinks through women, who enjoys arts by women, who believes in the cinema of women. I believe there is something about our collective imaginary which, in the second part of the 20th century, really took off.
dolores: If you see sexual difference as the main difference, then isn't that a construction as well?
Braidotti: Absolutely. It was absolutely constructed. When something, which is being constructed in language and culture, has been constructed systematically since the paleolithic or the Neolithic. When something has that depth of historical layering, there comes a point where history is some sort of essence.
However, it is not a biological essence but it has become so much part of what we are. Yes, a construction, but getting rid of it is not as simple as we thought it would be. This is where Simone de Beauvoir and the early Ann Oakley, the first generation or the second wave, were absolutely optimistic. They thought, "Oh, it is a social construction. Great, the Marxist thing! We can change it."
The question of change is more pertinent than ever if you use a deconstructive methodology. The deconstruction of postmodernism as a critique of constructivism lends you in a sea of trouble with issues of change and transformation because, then, why should people change? Why not then what Derrida said: it's the tax, that's how it is, dance at the margins with flowers in your hair. How then do you make changes and transformation possible? It is more pertinent than ever. The political issue is absolutely crucial. Why should people reconstruct or deconstruct? Why should women want to desire differently or to be desired differently? It is Rousseau's question: what makes them want change, particularly in a political context? I think it is reactionary and anti-change.
dolores: In your last lecture, you spoke about the Italian reception of Irigaray and the concept of "the Other of the Other" as a concept for woman. If you apply that to daily life, what does that mean taken out of this theoretical background, out of the academia? Would it work as a concept for women as a way of telling them how to relate to things, as a way of giving them identity?
Braidotti: It is meant by Irigaray and my adaptations of it as a limitation to practice. It was formulated as a critique of equal opportunity, as a critique of egalitarianism. Women as "the Other of the Same" is what equal opportunists do. We fight for equal pay. We've been fighting for equal pay for 25 years. Women still earn 70 cents for every dollar men earn. Laurie Anderson says it is so it's got to be true. We can continue fighting it until we are blue in the face. Our society simply cannot afford equality because structural inequalities are integral parts of our economic systems. Are we going to spend time and energy until we are 300 years of age fighting for something, which is structurally, not possible?
You cannot take equality as your political aim. You can take it as a strategy. We should fight for equal opportunity, we should stop being raped, we should have women in every sphere of life, but that is a strategy. It cannot be the goal because to really achieve that you need to change the system. You cannot simply hope that you put women in the club and not change the rules of the club. We've had very pretty hilarious instances of this. For instance, women were allowed into military academies. Women were allowed into segregated golf clubs. There are not nearly enough toilets for them, for Christ's sake. In the Senate in America, there weren't even enough toilets for the women senators. Talk about integration and equality. If you are going to let people in, you're going to have to change something in the structures, or in this case in the building. That is where the idea of the Other of the Other came in, that we need to rethink the whole structure of interrelation, the framework and not just the short term strategy.
Irigaray went one step further and said women are better off investing our energies into devising the new structures rather than trying to repair the mistakes of patriarchy. And Marguerite Duras said that women who want to repair the faults of patriarchal history are going to waste a lot of time.
The fight for equality is by now ongoing. It is a state issue: governments do it, the European Union does it. We have enough women doing that. Let's have a vanguard or another point of focus where the emphasis would be cultivating, experimenting, devising a different way of proceeding.
In the case of Irigaray, it took the form of legal work. Could we imagine a legal system that would do justice to women? Citizenship, European citizenship. What happens to asylum laws if we look at them from the point of view of women. Women who are victims of rape can still not be admitted in any culture, in any country, or in the European Union. It's incredible. How would we account when we look at concrete issues and try to simply devise them from the point of view of women? Danger: of course, acentralize the category of woman and it becomes an umbrella term. The advantage is that you put your energy into being affirmative and not critical, into being creative and not repetitively going on with the same old soup. You put the female intelligence and imagination at the forefront of the struggle.
The Other of the Other is about how we would reinvent not only subjectivity but also interrelation: how could the Other be for each other? How could the other woman function as a mediator for women? The idea behind this is that women in patriarchy have a pretty horrible pattern of interaction. We're competitive; we're against each other. The myth of sisterhood in the early part of second feminist wave has seen better days. No one believed in that much any more. How can we have a bond between us respecting diversity, respecting the singularity of every woman, but still taking the woman as the interlocutor? That is the Other for the Other. Can you be the Other for me not because we're morphologically the same or that our gender, somebody decided, was the same. Rather because we have common interests and a common amount of energy that our culture is not allowing us to use.
This idea that we have untapped reserves of imagination-patriarchy does not want it or does not know what to do with. We need to create areas where this can be experimented. It is the idea of own women's spaces. Not of all women, not of all places, not of all times. Specifically located. In the old language, it would have been in separatist spaces where women just think: how do I do this for myself? Equal opportunists hate it.
dolores: Do you see any possibility to visualize this concept of the Other of the Other? For the women themselves?
dolores: As a form of identity, maybe? One of the big problems that we're faced with is identity. What does it mean to be a young woman in the '90's? In that search of a framework for that whole complex, do you think that that would work as a way of imagining identity, of locating oneself?
Braidotti: The identity issue is to be looked at very carefully. Identity in the '90's is a concept that up for grabs, I mean completely floating as to be everybody's identity: what does it mean to be Austrian in the '90's, or European in the '90's? Maybe we could make a compromise: that there is an angle of your own identity-your ego, yourself, your sense of your personality, your wishes, your desires-but also there is what I call subjectivities: the things that you do, it is the kind of agency that you disposed of. Of course, one doesn't go without the other, but they take you in very different directions. I would be very unhappy to think of feminism as an answer for your identity. Please be as free and as experimental and as undogmatic about identity as you possibly can be. There are some schools of feminism that will tell you what is right and what is wrong for you to desire and not to desire. I would be very unhappy to find myself in that company.
The idea of the Other of the Other would be a de-essentialized rendition of woman identified. Imagine woman identified without a woman as a concept. What would you identify with them? There is a lot of this funny stuff going on, both in cyberfeminism and a lot of other cultural practices. When the Riot Grrls make music that cross-refers to The Slits and other previous groups that nobody except women usually know or very few fringe groups would know. When Sinead O'Connor starts her record with a speech by Germaine Greer, there is something of a recall, like pushing a button and then you remember. It is what I call "thinking back through" or "remembering back through". There is a lot of this kind of cross-referring happening.
This is community for me: this is women-thinking through other women but it is not because the other woman is a woman, but because she happens to be hitting you with something that is crucial to you. You need your own identity to start off with and then you can encounter the other woman. That is what I call the level of subjectivities. A very important thing is the acknowledgment, that you are recognizing the bond. This is where, in music, something fundamental has shifted since Madonna, that other women recognize other women. This was never the case. Women competed until really recently and even today in some areas. Women now say "She taught me this" or "I got this from her". In philosophy, you always get it from Hegel or Heidegger, never from a woman.
Too many nutcases are doing politics. They should go home and fix themselves up. Feminism can fulfill a role for your identity but you already need to have a sense of yourself in order to profit from this. I would like to keep the separation: what you do with your identity and the kind of person-girl, woman, human being-you want to become is your business. Another way of calling the concept of the other of the others is "community-building". But the communities are atopological, they are not "women's centers" like we used to do in the '70's.
dolores: Do you have a utopia for the woman of the 21st century, on an individual level and on a more general societal level?
Braidotti: Utopias are very complicated things. I have visions of libraries full of women's books. I have visions of our intelligence and our creativity being acknowledged.
But if justice could be done to what we already have become, that would be utopia enough. Our society is falling rapidly behind this, pretending that women like us don't exist or that we are the exception. When 6 000 women like us are around, this is not exception. Something has changed dramatically. That change is being denied at all levels, sometimes by the women themselves. Finding adequate forms of social recognition and representation for what has already happened would be utopian enough. For me, the liberation of women is not something that will happen: it is completely going on right now.
There is the shift from feminism of critique and of reactivity to feminism of affirmation and of strength. It is not the power feminism of Naomi Wolf, that's a bit cheap, but it is in the same direction. Stop complaining. We need strong healthy successful women to carry on with this.
Remember the history. Keep the genealogy going. Don't lose the memory, don't go completely amnesiac. Society will want you to be that way. Postmodernism is about amnesia. Connect to ongoing political struggles, particularly the racism issue. Europe is so racist. This continent is so sick, so unable to live with difference. Xenophobia is on the rise to an extent that is just problematic. Not only in Austria, it is all over the place. If we European women go down in history once again as letting racism happen, then we have lost everything. We have no ground to stand on. If you cultivate your singular identity and grow to be a strong assertive woman at a time when all these inequities are happening around you, but you are not doing anything about it, then that is decadence. That is exactly what a lot of women did in the '30's. They cultivated their "great talents" while the world was going to rot. You need to keep that checkpoint and racism is a crucial one. We must not miss the boat of new technologies because the real world will be out there in cyberspace and we've got to be there.
The answer? I shouldn't answer. I should throw the question back at you. What ought to be case now. Only in that dialog with young women can we make meaningful sense of our position and you can identify areas where some new work is going to happen. In that sense, the younger feminists also hold in their hands the identity of the older ones. It is for you to say "this matters, this does not". It is not as if we are setting the agenda. That is absolutely not the case. It takes two to tango. Working in the institutions, I am very aware that it is, in some ways, not where it is at. Institutions are usually the last place to register major changes.
I grew up in a world where economic growth and political change were on the agenda. You guys grew up in a world when change was not on the agenda and jobs were something very vague and far away and you can just about forget it by now.
There are various agenda topics. In a sense, this is a question, which you should also answer. You say, "What we think is important..." Then we could say, "That is not really important." Then that would be a feminist community.
dolores: Do you think that networking can bring a new way to solidarity that does not spring from this elite homogeneity, which was seen in the '60's?
Braidotti: Networking, as a political concept, originated in the '60's. It was about avoiding the official channels. It really was about the xerox machine and doing your own, so as a political concept, it has to do with that kind of direct action. Did you mean "networking" differently, like electronic networking? Yeah?
You have to put it in a context: it has a very long history that actually started with neighborhood action. The first women's groups were door-to-door, then you took the list of the names of women on the street and you called the first anti-sexual violence meeting. We've gone from there to the big thick books of Robin Morgan's type of "Sisterhood is Global" which gives us just about every address of every women's organization on the globe.
In my opinion, networking has changed the world: it has put women on the agenda every where. I worked for UNESCO for some years. There have been incredible vacuums that have been filled by lists of organizations and names. How transformative it is we have to look at very carefully. If you look at examples in the west, women's center and women's bookshops all have gone bankrupt. You have to contextualize it. One interesting thing that we have been looking at is the non-governmental organizations, the NGOs. They've done incredible work at the UN level. They have really networked extensively.
Now, the electronic networks that you mean have some advantages and enormous disadvantages. The disadvantages are very obvious: participation and access. It is very limited. The potential for it to be a ubiquitous means of communication is enormous. But like all potential where there is tremendous capital interest at stake, it may never be instantiated. When the telephone was invented, everyone said, that's it, universal communication. But only twenty percent of the world's households have telephones.
The most universal means of communication has to be the radio. If you could find effective battery recharges-people are experimenting with solar-operated batteries-with proper satellite backing, radio is the most universal means of communications. It would reach everywhere. That's why nobody is investing in it-it's too simple, too cheap, and too democratic. So we have this very complicated cabled, wired, capital-intensive, exorbitantly expensive system when we could do the same things with a good, solid battery-operated transistor radio with satellite backing. Greenpeace and a lot of the sustainable-development groups have made these comparative surveys about which forms of communication technologies could really be cultural action for freedom. That one that would really work is the one where nobody's putting any money into.
This is being a very good principle for your evaluation, remember this: if Bill Gates is in it, it can't be liberated. Okay? There is very little potential for our occupying the medium. That could be the end of it in terms of what we need. On the other hand, the potential is high enough for us to give it a chance. There are many strategies you could use for that. One is to increase access and participation. We say to the government, we'll adopt a group of women in Africa, we get them computers, and we go on-line with them. We do that university to university with University of Western Cape in South Africa. We adopted them, set up a gender studies unit, bought them computers, and trained them. Now we're on-line. This is what the University of Utrecht did.
You are then creating a community. If every university in Europe did this, every university in Africa could have a computer. We hope that women are using some of it. But it would have to be a political platform, almost, to do that. Nonetheless, I am still seduced by the idea of what electronic communication could do as an experiment. Look at the sort of things that Sherry Turkle has been writing about what happens to identity in a situation like this. It is so much part of our life in the west that not taking it into account would be criminal and blind. I think we should invest in it and experiment with it.
If you are a very good graphic designer, you can actually visualize it, you can actually program sounds and images into it. But, unless you are at that level of fluency with the medium, Internet communication re-enforces the power of language. You may suppress the commas, you may leave out personal pronouns, but you are functioning with syntax, a structure where language is more primordial than ever. Language is reduced to the nitty-gritty with all sorts of disadvantages that that entails. When it goes well, it is like beautiful Dadaist poetry and you are breaking through. Most of the time, it is efficient down to almost like a shopping list. It reduces human communication, even feminist communication---god knows, I'm on e-mail three hours a day---it is being bang-bang-banged.
It binds you. It is a bond to others, but I am not sure if the level of the interaction is necessarily revolutionary. It is revolutionary in the sense that is fast, in being business-like, connecting women.
But I don't see that it is in itself a very subversive medium. I think it has tremendous potential for incredible conservatism, and there are things we read about like the masculinism of the Internet and the kind of interaction that is happening confirms that. If you are looking at the gender-bending, identity-swapping sort of games. There is nothing new per se. It happened with different media before. Again, it is a "yes, but" answer.
Definitely we must experiment. The answer will come in the doing. The access and participation remain problems. But if we adopt groups of women outside our world and enter into communication with them, then it also has potential. In any case, we have to be in it before we can finally dismiss it. In itself, it could simply become like the European Union: a mega, meta heavy corporation, and it may close the very doors that it has opened. But, of course, the same has happened to a lot of technologies before, and creative spirits have always managed to swish past.
dolores: You know, we might as well try.
Braidotti: Absolutely, Computers are actually perfect for women. I don't have any problems with that. I'm more concerned about, if a family did have a computer, who would have access to it? Of course we could do it. Women can do anything. But how would we get our population to that level, particularly those whose function in life is not to think and write? That is a really big issue. There is re-training involved in this. Groups in Europe are experimenting in these open re-training sessions, getting women to do what we've never done, which is to enjoy video games.
This could be a major issue in terms of the generational question. Maybe we're looking at a generation for whom that would make more sense, rather than going to demonstrations or whatever mom did in the '70's. The answer for that has to come from you. There is a lot of work now being done on cyberfeminism. We thought that getting the contraceptive pill accepted was easy, that getting women to drive would be easy." We thought this about women and technology, but there is a problem.
dolores: It is not just the access. It is the motivation as well.
Braidotti: There is a socialization process, which separates the women from the machines. There is a socialization pattern which gives television time and video time to the boys. If there is a football game on, the woman can forget whatever movie is on the other channel. If you're wealthy, then you buy another television.
I just read a book on the introduction of the bicycle in the 19th century. I didn't know that women had to struggle to use the bicycle. Nobody told me that. There was a feminist struggle for women to ride the bicycle!
Every time a new technology is introduced, there is that in-built masculinism. How would we undo that and how would we make this attractive for women?
dolores: There is a paradox because many women work with computers in their daily lives.
Braidotti: This is again a paradox historically about women and technology. Women were the first typists and they use the washing machines. Women use the technology. They don't design it and they don't own it. Historically, this has been our fate I'm afraid. Today we use the computer but we're not designing the stuff. By not designing it, we're allowing parameters to be set which are not attractive. I don't get turned on by some of the stuff that these guys are programming. It is nothing for me. It is about the sensibility. I don't want to be essentialistic, I'm talking about the different socialization models whereby I prefer certain types of music or certain kinds of textures to others. Speed doesn't do anything for me. Shooting down enemies is not something that particularly turns me on.
an interview by Marie Ringler and Meike Schmidt-Gleim