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Understanding Motherhood Beyond Dichotomy: Oyewumi and Irigaray in Dialogue

Azille Coetzee


In this paper I closely analyze the understanding of motherhood as found in the work of Nigerian sociologist Oyeronke Oyewumi, and place her in dialogue with Belgian feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray. I make the point that the dialogue between Irigaray and Oyewumi shows that Oyewumi's understanding of motherhood is rooted in a different metaphysical understanding of subjectivity as that which underpins the theorizations of motherhood in dominant strands of Western feminist philosophy. The implication would be that in order to really understand the notion of motherhood as posited by Oyewumi­, one cannot approach it on the basis of the same assumptions that underlie our interpretations of dominant Western feminist theories about motherhood. I show how in the work of Oyewumi the mother is a figure through which the dichotomies central to the colonial/modern gender system and dominant Western thought (body/mind, immanence/transcendence, nature/culture etc.) are deconstructed in striking and powerful ways. I show how Irigaray, as a dissident voice in Western feminist thought, makes claims that are comparable to Oyewumi's claims. Both of them are looking to articulate a position beyond Western metaphysics and both of them stand critical towards those dominant strands in Western feminist thought which uncritically work within the exclusionary or sacrificial logic of Western metaphysics. However, I also argue thatOyewumi's work can be interpreted to highlight the ways in which Irigaray fails to move beyond Western metaphysics. In my analysis I therefore, among other things, try to show the potential for new meaning and understanding that can be unlocked in engaging Western and African feminist scholars in dialogue.


Philosophy; Motherhood; Gender; Feminism

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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