chapter  10
Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Excerpts from ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’
Pages 7

Any discussion of the intellectual and political construction of ‘third world feminisms’ must address itself to two simultaneous projects: the internal critique of hegemonic ‘Western’ feminisms, and the formulation of autonomous,

geographically, historically, and culturally grounded feminist concerns and strategies. The first project is one of deconstructing and dismantling; the second, one of building and constructing. While these projects appear to be contradictory, the

one working negatively and the other positively, unless these two tasks are addressed simultaneously, ‘third world’ feminisms run the risk of marginalization or ghettoization from both mainstream (right and left) and Western feminist

discourses. It is to the first project that I address myself. What I wish to analyze is

specifically the production of the ‘third world woman’ as a singular monolithic

subject in some recent (Western) feminist texts. The definition of colonization I wish to invoke here is a predominantly discursive one, focusing on a certain mode of appropriation and codification of ‘scholarship’ and ‘knowledge’ about women

in the third world by particular analytic categories employed in specific writings on the subject which take as their referent feminist interests as they have been articulated in the US and Western Europe. If one of the tasks of formulating and

understanding the locus of ‘third world feminisms’ is delineating the way in which it resists and works against what I am referring to as ‘Western feminist discourse,’ an analysis of the discursive construction of ‘third world women’ in Western

feminism is an important first step. Clearly Western feminist discourse and political practice is neither singular

nor homogeneous in its goals, interests, or analyses. However, it is possible to

trace a coherence of effects resulting from the implicit assumption of ‘the West’ (in all its complexities and contradictions) as the primary referent in theory and praxis. My reference to ‘Western feminism’ is by no means intended to imply that

it is a monolith. Rather, I am attempting to draw attention to the similar effects of various textual strategies used by writers which codify Others as non-Western

and hence themselves as (implicitly) Western. It is in this sense that I use the term

Western feminist. Similar arguments can be made in terms of middle-class urban African or Asian scholars producing scholarship on or about their rural or workingclass sisters which assumes their own middle-class cultures as the norm, and

codifies working-class histories and cultures as Other. Thus, while this essay focuses specifically on what I refer to as ‘Western feminist’ discourse on women in the third world, the critiques I offer also pertain to third world scholars writing about

their own cultures, which employ identical analytic strategies. It ought to be of some political significance, at least, that the term

colonization has come to denote a variety of phenomena in recent feminist and left-wing writings in general. From its analytic value as a category of exploitative economic exchange in both traditional and contemporary Marxisms-cf. particularly contemporary theorists such as Baran (1962), Amin (1977), and Gunder-Frank

(1967)—to its use by feminist women of color in the US to describe the appropriation of their experiences and struggles by hegemonic white women’s movements-cf. especially Moraga and Anzaldúa (1983), Smith (1983), Joseph

and Lewis (1981), and Moraga (1984)—colonization has been used to characterize everything from the most evident economic and political hierarchies to the production of a particular cultural discourse about what is called the ‘third world.’2