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Issue: 8.3: Summer 2010
Guest Edited by Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert


Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala

Julie and Mandy met in a classroom in Atlanta, GA. Both new to the campus of Georgia State University—Julie as a teacher of women's studies and Mandy as a student—we found ourselves straddling a line many believe to be laden with dichotomies: the line between activism and academia. Although our relationship began as teacher-student, Mandy and Julie became peers as the events of September 11th muted dissenting voices. Outraged by the corporate media's depiction of the American public as homogenous and bloodthirsty, the students in Julie's class dubbed themselves the 4910 Collective (after the course number in the college catalog, WSt 4910, Activism: History and Theory) to organize a protest of the mainstream media's censorship of Americans who did not support the so-called war on terror; instead, we demanded a considered diplomatic response to the attacks. The theory we were reading in the classroom became concretized in our actions in the streets (literally and figuratively), and the divide between academia and activism blurred. Over the past ten years, Julie has continued to teach, and Mandy became a grassroots organizer and independent writer—both frequently hopping over that preemptory line of divide as well as maintaining their friendship.

When Mandy initiated the conversation about this special issue, highlighting the word "polyphony," Julie's first thoughts focused on how frequently we need to remind ourselves to open up, to expand our understandings of feminist thought and activism, and how intense the pressure is to solidify convictions and strategies. We see polyphony, with its focus on non-hierarchical multiplicity, as a way to address frequent conflicts within movements, including narrow definitions of both feminism and activism, exclusionary practices, and internal dissent. In other words, we hope that the idea of allowing contributors' voices to come together while maintaining autonomy can help resist the pressure to present a coherent, unified feminist ideology. We don't want to repeat the framework of recognizing problems and then claiming that we have a singular innovative solution, or that we will simply "break the silence" in order to liberate ourselves. Instead of finding a magical new formula that will make all previous work coherently lead to the glorious future, we want to attend to a process that involves recognizing the ways patterns form in order to intervene in them when they become stuck.

In particular, we want to draw attention to ways models for social change begin as exciting and inspirational, but over time can stagnate and become repressive. When the models themselves become so entrenched that it seems almost impossible to question the perspectives through which we organize, new ways of thinking and strategizing are necessary to jolt us out of ineffective cycles. To that end, we have organized this issue in what we hope is an innovative fashion: we begin with a section on feminist visions, focusing on imagining and creating possibilities. The second section investigates the idea of "sticking points"—places where we are reminded of the challenges and difficulties of enacting our ideals. The third section combines the previous two: here we highlight the concrete methods activists/academics/organizations use to work through sticking points in new and exciting ways. These three sections are accompanied by a multimedia art gallery, which provides yet more visual, aural, and performative ways of theorizing and articulating these ideas and issues.

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© 2010 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.3: Summer 2010 - Polyphonic Feminisms