Faculty Works-in-Progress Seminar: Nancy Hirschmann

Friday, February 22, 2013 - 8:30am

"Relational Autonomy? Or Relational Freedom? A Return to Psychoanalytic Theory"


Nancy J. Hirschmann, Professor of Political Science


Faculty Respondents: Heather Love, Professor of English, UPenn & Sally Scholz, Professor of Philosophy, Villanova University

Paper Abstract:

This paper is in progress for a follow-up volume to the well-known Relational Autonomy ed. by Natalie Stoljar and Catrionia MacKenzie.  This volume will have all new papers, including some by some of the scholars who were in the original volume.  I am the only non-philosopher in the book.  My paper raises questions about whether the concept of “autonomy” and particularly “relational autonomy” poses problems that feminists need to attend to. I look at relational autonomy’s origins in psychoanalysis in order to demonstrate some of its problems, and then draw a comparison to the concept of “freedom” to argue for that as a better concept for feminists, or at least an important framework for considering autonomy. Both concepts involve notions of a subject or self making choices in the world, but deploy different notions of agency, choice, desire, and will as well as what constitutes an obstacle or restraint.  Such apparently semantic considerations have important political implications for the lives of women involved in making choices in a world that is structurally biased against their autonomy—and their freedom—and I suggest that considering the two concepts in tandem can offer important insights into how we theorize the choosing subject within feminism.

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