Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Getting Specific

Postmodern Lesbian Politics

1994
Author:

Shane Phelan

Getting Specific

The only book to debate lesbian political theory.

Phelan examines lesbian political theory and points out the pitfalls of a lesbian feminism that ignores the specificities of race. As she searches for a democratic identity politics, she explores the possibilities for lesbian community and for alliances with other groups, as well as the political goals of lesbian action.

Shane Phelan is a careful political theorist, who ranges from Gloria Anzaldua to Jean Luc Nancy with clarity and purpose. In ways both personal and political, this book breaks out of some of the aporiae that have begun to block discussions of identity and difference. While it gets specific about lesbian feminist theory and politics, the book will also be of interest to anyone wishing to build multicultural alliances.

Iris M. Young, University of Pittsburgh

Whereas feminist theory divides between two strategies, one based on equality (or sameness) and the other on difference, this book proposes a new approach-specificity. We are neither simply "the same as" or "different from" one another, Shane Phelan observes, and any theory that assumes as much is mistaken and dangerous. Here Phelan offers an alternative, a "democratic identity politics," which recognizes the specifics of human experience and at the same time accounts for alliances and communities. Getting specific, she suggests, allows us to discover the networks of meaning and power that shape our lives and to discern and respect genuine individuality.

In particular, Phelan points out the pitfalls of a lesbian feminism that ignores the specificities of race. Drawing on the theory surrounding U.S. women of color, she shows how the failure of white lesbians to consider the role of race in their lives leads to inadequate social theory and political action. These failures in turn limit the possibilities for trust and cooperation across race, and thereby weaken all struggles for democratic change.

Along the way to formulating a democratic identity politics out of her critique, Phelan examines concepts of power, justice, community, interest, and liberation. In developing a new vision of coalition and alliance for lesbian feminism, she opens a new course for all political and social theorists.


Getting Specific

Shane Phelan is associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Identity Politics: Lesbian Feminism and the Limits of Community (1989).

Getting Specific

Shane Phelan is a careful political theorist, who ranges from Gloria Anzaldua to Jean Luc Nancy with clarity and purpose. In ways both personal and political, this book breaks out of some of the aporiae that have begun to block discussions of identity and difference. While it gets specific about lesbian feminist theory and politics, the book will also be of interest to anyone wishing to build multicultural alliances.

Iris M. Young, University of Pittsburgh

Shane Phelan has written a very thoughtful book which addresses some of the most important questions facing contemporary feminist theory. How should concerns about theory interface with concerns about justice? How should we insist on the importance of identity politics in a postmodern world? And how can the meaning of lesbianism illuminate new directions for feminist politics? Her meditation on sexuality as ethnicity is very original and thought provoking. This is a book that will both stir controversy and shape the direction of feminist theorizing in coming years.

Nancy C. M. Hartsock, University of Washington

Shane Phelan’s Getting Specific offers both an excellent discussion and demystification of postmodern theories (e.g. Foucault, Lyotard, and Laclau and Mouffe) and a provocative case for turning postmodern debunkings of “totalizing” theories into a new way of thinking about socio-political change. Phelan’s book makes an extremely valuable contribution to the growing (feminist) literature on difference, diversity and coalition-building. It is must reading not only for feminist theorists but also for anyone who wishes to think about social change in an increasingly complex and fragmented world.

Martha Ackelsberg, Smith College

Getting Specific presents lesbian politics as part of a larger project of working for a just society. It is a timely discussion, addressing the perplexities of negotiating our multiple, often conflicting identities in a work where prevailing social practices and institutions are hostile, or at least unfriendly, to so many of them, and so many of them are hostile to each other.

Lesbian Review of Books

Phelan offers important new directions to those who have been struggling with how to engage in politics in an age of fragmenting identities, while still recognizing and incorporating the variety of situations and locations from which people come to engagement.

Journal of Politics

Shane Phelan’s Getting Specific engagingly delves into the conflicts and contradictions dotting the philosophical terrain of lesbian political activism. Phelan proposes a way of thinking about one’s various positions and their constitution that might-if enough of us thought that way-enable effective political action.

Signs

Phelan has produced an enviable, beautifully crafted and compelling articulation of postmodern theory, political action, and democratic citizenship.

Archives of Sexual Behavior