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Thinking With and Through the Concept of Coalition: On What Feminists Can Teach Us about Doing Political Theory, Theorizing Subjectivity, and Organizing Politically


Despite the extensive attention political scientists have given to predicting decision-making patterns within parliamentary coalitional governments or voting outcomes of legislative and policy coalitions within congressional systems, the literature largely neglects social justice activist coalitions that form outside the formal governing bodies of the state and at the hands of political activists who are often invested in contesting formal institutions. While a narrow set of political theorists have turned attention to theorizing extra-governmental coalitions such as these, scholarship here is beset by a false crisis that effectively obscures the high-stakes politics (the arrangements of power) that situate coalitions across intractable race, class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity divides. By theorizing the proliferation of differences as a discursive phenomenon, contemporary political theories adopt problematic notions of: ontological unfixity–the idea that all social identities (i.e., “workers” or “women”) are in the process of becoming in and through language and therefore remain permanently unfinished or unfixed; epistemological undecidability–the idea that social forces (i.e., the movements of power and forms of oppression) may never be decidedly known or fully comprehended; and political indeterminacy–the idea that activist politics cannot be planned, predicted or advocated for in advance of its occurrence. This dissertation brings feminist theory to bear on these discussions. After exposing the limitations of scholarship on coalition within both political science and political theory, I turn to women of color feminist activists and scholars to develop four unique ways in which feminist theorists think with and through the concept of coalition. Confronted with political questions related to organized group resistance across deep cleavages of difference, I develop a notion of politico-ethical coalition politics that foregrounds the decidable and goal-oriented politics that situate social justice coalitional encounters. In attending to ontological and epistemological questions related to the proliferation of differences that have destabilized unitary categories such as “class” and thrown into question unitary systems of oppression, I develop notions of coalitional identity and coalitional consciousness that effectively accommodate complexity without subscribing to either unfixity or undecidability. In the final chapter, I develop a notion of coalitional scholarship, arguing that the collaborative, unapologetically political, and intensely self-reflexive ways in which women of color feminists do political theory not only usher in new and innovative reconceptions of activist politics and political subjectivity, but also encourage a rethinking of methodological questions related to how to do political theory.

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