The ethics of nobody I know: Gender and the politics of description

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Qualitative Research Journal, 2014, 14 (1), pp. 64 - 78
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Purpose: This paper aims to bring together feminist philosophy, phenomenology, and masculinity studies to consider the gendered formation of ethical practices, focusing on the construction of "male" and "female" identities in quotidian social encounters. While scholarship on masculinity has frequently focused on hegemonic modes of behaviour or normative gender relations, less attention has been paid to the "ethics of people I know" as informal political resources, ones that shapes not only conversations about how one should act ("people I know don't do that"), but also about the diversity of situations that friends, acquaintances or strangers could plausibly have encountered ("that hasn't happened to anyone I know"). Design/methodology/approach: The paper rethinks mundane social securities drawing on Martin Heidegger, Simone de Beauvoir, and Sara Ahmed to consider anecdotal case studies around gender recognition and political practice, and in doing so also develops the notion of interpellation in relation to everyday ethical problems. Findings: The paper suggests that inquiry into diverse modes of quotidian complicities - or what de Beauvoir calls the "snares" of a deeply human liberty - can be useful for describing the mixtures of sympathy, empathy, and disavowal in the performance of pro-feminist and queer-friendly masculinities or masculinist identities. It also suggests that the adoption of an "anti-normative" politics is insufficient for negotiating the problems of description and recognition involved in the articulation of gendered social experiences. Originality/value: This paper approaches questions around political identification commonly considered in queer theory from the viewpoint of descriptive practices themselves, and thus reorients problems of recognition and interpellation towards the expression of ethical statements, rather than focusing solely on the objects of such statements. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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