Literary critic and black feminist scholar Hortense Spillers and sociologist Gail Lewis discuss the impossibility of black women’s claims to and inclusion in ‘womanhood’, and the implications this has for contemporary black feminist politics. This talk is introduced by sociology professor Akwugo Emejulu and is a primer for her event Fugitive Feminism, 18 – 22 July 2018, co-programmed with the ICA.
Known for her theories of African-American female gender construction, Hortense Spillers’ thought is foundational in acknowledging the irreconcilability of black women’s experience with the hegemonic constructions of ‘gender’ and ‘women.’ Gail Lewis’ robust feminist, postcolonial, poststructuralist and psychoanalytic interests centre on the constitution of subjectivity as racialised and gendered.
Hortense Spillers is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor in the English Department at Vanderbilt University. She co-edited Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition (1985) along with Marjorie Pryse, and edited Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text (1991). Spillers also published the collection of essays Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (2003), which span the breadth of her professional interests in African-American culture and history.
Gail Lewis is Reader in Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck. Her academic interests centre on psychoanalysis, black feminism, experience as a site of knowing and knowledge production, and social policy and welfare practice. She has a mixed disciplinary background with a degree in Social Anthropology, an MPhil in Development Studies and a PhD in Sociology. Between two spells at the Open University she worked at Lancaster University in the Institute for Women’s Studies, where she was Head of Department. She is also a qualified psychodynamic psychotherapist. She published Race, Gender and Social Policy: Encounters in a Postcolonial society (2000). Her work has also appeared in Race & Class, Cultural Studies, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Feminist Theory, Signs and Feminist Review, where she recently published ‘Questions of Presence’ in Issue 117 (2017).
Akwugo Emejulu is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. Her research interests include investigating racial and gender inequalities in Europe and the United States and exploring women of colour's grassroots activism for social justice. Emejulu’s work has appeared in the Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies, Politics & Gender, Race & Class, Soundings and the European Journal of Women's Studies. She has co-authored Minority Women and Austerity: Survival and Resistance in France and Britain (2017).