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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Critical Friends and De(con)structive Critics: Dilemmas of Feminist Engagement with Global Governance and Gender Reform Agendas

Louise Chappell
University of New South Wales
Louise Chappell
University of New South Wales
Fiona Mackay
University of Edinburgh

Global institutions are significant players in efforts to promote gender equality and gender justice; as well as key sites for the (re) production of inequality and injustice. The concept of “critical friend” (Costa and Kallick 1993) neatly captures the aspirations and dilemmas for many feminist researchers whose work as observers, allies and, sometimes, practitioners means they are “entangled” with international organisations and the feminist bureaucrats, legislators and jurists working on the inside as “outsiders within” to regender powerful social, economic, military and political institutions. The paper sketches out what the concept of critical friendship in the context of global governance might mean. Rather than positing engaged feminism and critical feminism in opposition, it argues that “critical friends” can be engaged and critical. In contrast to some trends of feminist critique this approach is committed to making contextual judgments about “small wins” and “small acts” against the (gendered, institutional, political) odds; and to being mindful of the precarious nature and marginal position of actors, structures and rules that aim to challenge the gendered status quo. But can such an approach avoid cooption, and retain the critical insight that ostensible reform efforts can be a means of maintaining the status quo?
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