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Feminism and the Uses of Guilt

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Organizer: Kimberly Anne Coles

Co-Organizer: Melissa E. Sanchez

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Scholars working in identity-based fields have embraced a range of affective states—pride, shame, rage, irony, modesty, earnestness, and repair—as theoretically and politically productive affects. Guilt, by contrast, is more usually attributed to others rather assumed by the self. This seminar instead asks how our scholarly and political investments might look different if we embraced guilt—in the sense of both culpability and contrition—not as a cynical dismissal of intellectual consistency or social justice, but as an inevitable structural position. This is the perspective offered by psychoanalysis, philosophy, and Black and women of color feminism. How do we construct a genealogy of guilt, and what is the relationship between guilt and repair in confronting white supremacy, settler colonialism, environmental devastation, ablism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia? How do we as feminists consider our own implication, or the implication of certain categories of woman, in this history? This seminar will look at the relationship between guilt, literary and cultural studies, and social justice from an assumption of failure, complicity, and compromise rather than one of moral authority.

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