Day 3: Freedom and the Feminist Challenge

About this day

The idea of freedom has played a major role in the history of political thought and struggle. The idea has motivated many attempts at social change. Even so, across different political traditions, there is no agreement about what freedom means. There is also fierce contestation about ‘who’ should be free and how freedom comes about. The boundaries of freedom are always shifting. There have been times when freedom was synonymous with calls for formal legal and political equality, while at other times freedom had more economic, social and personal dimensions. Our point of departure today is Bernard Gallie’s (1955) observation that some concepts are “essentially contested” and freedom is one of those essentially contested concepts.

Definitions and meanings of freedom do not develop in a vacuum. They are part of the contestations that take place between different groups in society. In these meanings, there is a yearning to recover a lost past, to restore what has been lost or taken away, and to make claims about the future.

In the process of challenging their subjugation, oppressed people have played a key role in our understanding of freedom. In doing this, they have borrowed what they deemed useful from different political traditions and from those who already enjoyed freedom. The feminist tradition has played no small part in expanding the meaning of freedom. It has done this by tackling dominant political traditions and pointing out their blind-spots. Feminism has also developed new ideas of freedom which have transformed how we think about what it means to be free.

Objectives for this day

At the end of the day, participants should have an understanding of the different meanings of freedom emerging from a range of political traditions, and how feminism has grappled with the idea of freedom – giving us insights that are neglected in other political traditions. The day is structured around the question: how (if at all) does feminism gives us expanded notions of freedom?

Day activity sessions

This day comprises the following activities: