Emma Goldman’s Struggles for Utopia: Feminism and Ambivalence

Clare Hemmings
Apr 18, 2018 | 6:00pm
Natalie Boymel Kampen Memorial Lecture in Feminist Criticism and History
Held Lecture Hall, 304 Barnard Hall

In the annual Natalie Boymel Kampen Memorial Lecture in Feminist Criticism and History, Clare Hemmings will deliver a lecture titled “Emma Goldman’s Struggles for Utopia: Feminism and Ambivalence.” Emma Goldman (anarchist activist and thinker) was a life-long believer in anarchist revolution and the importance of prefigurative engagement with utopian ways of living that such revolution would surely inaugurate. As an anarchist activist and theorist (1869-1940), Goldman was certain that sexual freedom was central to revolution, and that unchosen authority of any kind was counter-revolutionary. Yet for all her fervent certainties, Goldman’s articulation of the means to bring about anarchist utopia was shot through with political ambivalence: about gender, race and sexuality. She was ambivalent about those very things she cared most about – women’s oppression, anti-nationalism, sex itself – and that ambivalence has been seen as meaning she fell short of her ideals (while still being a heroic character). But, as Hemmings will show, this is precisely the site of struggle and that it is her conflicting views on gender, race and sexuality that help us think through current dilemmas and power relations, or indeed to have a glimpse of utopia ourselves. Hemmings suggests that they offer a useful way of bringing forward past uncertainties as a way of illuminating present difficulties about precisely the same ‘objects’ in queer feminist studies.

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