Freedom Beyond Rights: A Genealogy of Political Freedom in Feminist Thought

The purpose of this project is to explore shifting definitions of political freedom within the history of feminist thought, from the early modern period to the present. The project unearths the ways in which figures in the history of feminist thought have defined the principles and practices of freedom, with particular attention to how they have understood the relationship between freedom and resistance. With an archive of materials that is several centuries old, the project is nonetheless motivated by twenty-first century concerns about embodiment, freedom, and political autonomy.

The project possesses three goals. First, I aim to reconstruct, and place into dialogue, the multifaceted meanings that feminist thinkers have historically attributed to the concept of political freedom. This entails considering explicitly feminist texts, as well as those about women and gender that are nonetheless uninterested in, or even hostile, to the political emancipation of women. Second, I am particularly interested in the ways in which physical space shapes, and is in turn conditioned by, different understandings of liberty and subjectivity, and what Henri Lefebvre calls “the social production of space.” In so doing, I explore the ways in which political freedom has functioned not only an abstract principle but as a lived experience pursued by those often ostensibly excluded from its enjoyment. Third, I aim to reimagine freedom as the experience of one’s ethical orientation toward the world and other persons, rather than a status enshrined in law and bestowed by the state upon a rights-bearing individual.