Visiting Professors Moynagh and Caputi Edit Research Handbook on Feminist Political Thought

JCU Visiting Professors Patricia Moynagh and Mary Caputi recently co-edited a book called Research Handbook on Feminist Political Thought (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2024). The Handbook focuses on the crucial role of feminism in envisioning a more equal world, with chapters that examine critical and care-based approaches to feminist political thought. Moynagh teaches in Wagner College’s Government & Politics Department, where she is also Director of Gender Studies. Caputi teaches in the Department of Political Science at California State University, Long Beach. The collaboration between the two scholars is tied to the time they spent in Rome while teaching at JCU during the summer of 2023.

Congratulations on the publication of your new co-edited book, Research Handbook on Feminist Political Thought. What sparked the idea for this project?
Thank you. We were delighted and honored to accept the invitation from Edward Elgar Press to work together on what would become this book, Research Handbook on Feminist Political Thought. It was the publishers who reached out to us, but once this happened, the sparks never stopped. They are still igniting. And we hope our readers will have new sparks of their own. This is very much a collective effort to achieve greater freedom and a better life for all of us.

We’re both well-versed in the dynamic and growing field of feminist political thought. For this project, it was important for us to include as many voices as possible around some major themes that challenge us all today. In selecting these voices, we have deliberately included the work of emerging scholars who we are confident will one day be well-known in the field. At the same time, we were thrilled to include essays by prominent feminist authors and activists. And one contributor must remain unnamed due to fear of reprisal for her candid discussion of her activism in China. This appears in the one interview that we have included in the book. While the volume features essays by a broad array of scholars, activists, and artists from around the world, our guiding principle was to identify key contemporary themes to be subjected to new feminist critiques, ways of seeing and responding to difficult issues from the analytic strengths and insights that we were keen to highlight. We were also ever intent to underscore and reveal the collective power that we both observe in feminist approaches. So this runs throughout the works such that, bleak as some of our problems are right now – be they political, social, economic, or environmental – we find tremendous resources in feminist scholarship and activism for achieving more “livable lives,” to quote American philosopher Judith Butler, rising from critiques that inspire solutions to the deeply troubled world that we all share.

Patricia Moynagh and Mary Caputi, authors of Research Handbook on Feminist Political Thought
From left, Professors Patricia Moynagh and Mary Caputi at a cafe near JCU

There are many voices arising in these nearly 500 pages, each voice itself enhanced by the influence of other feminist voices. And clearly, there is great variety here. However, the commitment to a better world never wavers. And it should be said that a draft of each of these pieces was read by other feminist and gender studies scholars, all of whom have varieties of expertise from their particular specialties. Convention prohibits our listing the dozens of readers who helped us in our editorial tasks, but they are by no means invisible in the final product, and we are grateful for their collaboration. So, the voices are again multiple, not all speaking in the same way, but speaking against oppression and for emancipation. Persisting. Persisters, resisters who see something better as possible and are fighting for it in one way or another. We find much joy in these efforts that emanate from a willingness to cultivate a different vision of our world, one informed by an ethic of care, a validation of relationships, and a refusal to accept the way things are. 

How did you go about selecting the topics and contributors?
We wanted to be a complement to so much already existing great feminist political theory. And, once again, it was our sense that we needed to speak to the moment, this moment of continued violence against women, the poor, the environment, minorities, the trans population, and any number of other groups that make up the lived reality of this historical moment. We selected topics and authors whom we felt could challenge this violence in meaningful ways, thereby illustrating the richness and usefulness of feminist thought and activism in today’s world. We should also note that Edward Elgar, our press, and the series editor, Professor John Kane, were keen to have our contributors address these troubled times. Thus, we very deliberately sought out feminist scholars who could speak about such pressing contemporary topics as the rise of the far right in various parts of the world, the repeal of Roe v. Wade in the United States, the debt crisis in Latin America, the impact of social media on gender relations, etc. Moreover, we wanted scholars to address lived experiences of variously situated women and men who suffered at the hands of police violence and the challenges they subsequently pose to point to a “politics otherwise.” 

There are essays that discuss transmisogyny, feminist music criticism, and the realities of Native American dispossessions. Additionally, we also have contributions on care ethics, the urgent need to eradicate the conditions that create bereaved Black mothers, the appropriation of feminist politics by conservative women who claim to represent a truer form of “feminism,” and the pandemic. Speaking of the pandemic, we lost two contributors on account of Covid-19, one who sadly passed away and another who fell ill and could not submit a critical piece on the environment.  However, the book was and remains a source of connection for many of us who wrote during the fraught time of the pandemic. And one of our contributors, Julie White, in her opening essay, reveals what were already the harshly gendered, raced, and classed realities of work during Covid-19. Despite the abundant diversity of topics selected, the book connected many of us who were isolated and socially distancing while numerous others were afflicted and even died from the virus.

What were the main challenges that you encountered while editing the book?
One challenge centered around our narrowing down the many topics from which to choose, and then identifying appropriate authors to write on them. As mentioned, we strove to select timely, important matters that typify this historical moment, and we wanted to invite scholars who could write on these with authority and from an explicitly feminist angle. Yet as also mentioned, we wanted to include an array of feminist voices and not only select the best-known and widely published scholars. There is so much important work being done by junior scholars today and we were eager to make them heard. Their work illustrates just how much feminism has changed since its earliest days and how it continues to evolve. We are pleased with the themes that we identified as contributing to the volume, including critical essays on the carceral state, motherhood, Korean pop culture, #MeToo, misogyny and transmisogyny, decolonization, dispossession, racialized state violence, institutional sexism, versions of Arab and African feminism, feminist strikes, far-right extremism and the upsurge of feminist activism in Iran. 

Another challenge was to offer feminist critiques of this world while not despairing of it. This is why readers will encounter a clear rejection of what has been called “carceral feminism,” which our many contributors regard as perpetuating violence against those rendered most vulnerable to the state at any given time. Our authors build upon and are part of a larger project that commits to finding multiple resources to co-create better lives for all of us. The political thought running through this research handbook is about achieving collective, not merely individual, freedom. Our contributors address and confront our many challenges rather than flee from them or adapt to them. We wanted strong voices to be heard and reverberate. 

In many ways, this research handbook is an invitation to continue locating resources for this shared goal of emancipation. This goal takes to task all that reduces or impedes our abilities to care about our shared existence and instead enjoins us to enhance such abilities to care. Thus while such a feminist handbook will necessarily include such urgent and dire matters as economic precarity, bereavement, perpetual war, and displacement, we simultaneously wanted to highlight the themes of resistance and persistence, and the need to take action. The essays by Verónica Gago, Erica Lawson, and Françoise Vergès exemplify the feminist ability to name and confront various horrors while demanding change and a vision that insists on building a different and better world. 

In your opinion, how can this handbook better equip readers to address the issues of our times? Who do you think will find the book most useful?
We are very proud of the way in which our authors have completed articles that offer fresh insights into the world’s most pressing problems using feminist analyses. They neither seek to minimize the magnitude of these problems nor capitulate to apolitical despair. Rather, consistent with the theme of “persisters,” the essays illustrate how feminism offers a way out of entrenched difficulties. For example, Claudia Leeb’s essay illustrates the hopefulness contained in critical theory given that the latter underscores the tenuousness of all social norms and the malleability of even the most ingrained conventions. The female political actor has options open to her even in the face of long-standing traditions, for as both Jacques Derrida and Theodor Adorno argue, the need to shore up conventions often reveals anxiety regarding their fragile nature and permeability. This argument made by Leeb is also borne out in Mary Ziegler’s essay on the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. In her essay, Ziegler demonstrates how the current Supreme Court presents an unconvincing argument regarding abortion’s unprotected status, for it relies on the Court’s highly selective, highly partisan reading of American legal and cultural history. Alternative interpretations of both American legal documents and their political sensibility are readily available to those with a different viewpoint, Ziegler argues. Thus, the current status of abortion could easily be revisited and reinterpreted by a more progressive Supreme Court. 

Given the above, we think the handbook will be extremely useful not only to scholars interested in gender and sexuality but to anyone interested in contemporary politics throughout various geographic locations. The essays all hone analytic angles that speak to the current moment, encouraging persistence and a creative open-mindedness that insists change is both desirable and possible.  

We anticipate a wide readership. Scholars and students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels will find that feminism is a vital and variegated tool for sharpening perspectives on a host of issues, both concrete and theoretical. The handbook will interest those versed in the humanities, the hard and social sciences, the fine arts – both visual and performing – as well as emerging disciplines informed by feminist perspectives. The volume demonstrates how feminism both enriches these emerging disciplines and radically challenges some prevailing conventions that still define traditional academic practices. By way of conclusion, then, we regard this handbook as an educational tool with a feminist edge whose broad array of critiques promotes a more free, caring, and intellectually vibrant world.