Is there a word for it?

We’ve just had this question from reader SG, and we don’t know how to answer it. Do you? We’d be very grateful for your thoughts.

I’m a philosophy PhD student and am writing a paper on feminist and race critiques of objectivity in science. I want to connect these specific critiques, however, to a general category of critiques of kyriarchy. But, I can’t find a term to identify all these people who make critques of a kyriarchial society. (So, a word that would express what feminists, race theorists, and people who study all the other kinds of social oppressions have in common.)

14 thoughts on “Is there a word for it?

  1. I’ll admit to having had to look up “kyriarchy” so maybe I’m the wrong one to comment here, but it seems to me that _outside_ of philosophy this group of people are often called “critical theorists”. This is almost certainly the term that would be used in a law school and, I think, also in an English department. (This can be sub-divided into critical race theory, critical gender theory, etc., but the general term that’s used is “critical theorist” or “crits”. ) Now, this may not be a happy term to use inside of philosophy, as my impression is that among philosophers the term “critical theory” is used more narrowly for the Frankfurt school philosophers and those working in that tradition, while outside of philosophy (especially, but not only, in law schools) “critical theory” need not have anything to do with the Frankfurt School tradition or their approach. (Most of the Critical Race Theorists, for example, have at best a slight family resemblance to Frankfurt School type critical theory and rarely reference it.) So, whether it’s good for someone in philosophy not working on or in the Frankfurt school tradition to use the term “critical theory” I can’t say, as it might just lead to more confusion, but I think it would be well understood and accepted as normal by many outside of philosophy.

  2. I usually call it “critical political philosophy”.

    Other terms: Theories of social oppression, theories of identity-based oppression, counterhegemonic discourses…

    I’m interested to see what other terms people use.

  3. In Disability Studies, people tend to use the term ’emancipatory research’–perhaps this suits your purposes?

  4. `Kyriarchy’ is a pretty recent neologism; I doubt there’s any standard word for what SG wants. Since `anti-racist’ is the general term for someone who struggles against racism, I suppose `anti-kyriarchist’ would be the general term for someone who struggles against the kyriarchy. Note that `struggling against’ is strictly more general than `critiquing’. If SG wants to focus on the theorists, s/he might talk about `anti-kyriarchical theorists’.

    But that’s a mouthful. `Critical theorists’, so long as SG specifies that s/he doesn’t just mean Frankfurt school folks, would probably be fine.

  5. Thanks so much for the suggestions. I will look up each a bit more and see if I can construct a simple, clear term. These are promising places to look. Thank you.

  6. Anarchism is the critique of all oppressive societal & political hierarchies that involve unjust power dynamics, whether related to race, class, gender, citizenship, sexual orientation, age, religion, etc. What about anarcha-feminism?

  7. Having suggested “cultural studies” to Jender yesterday, let me disagree with that and some others. I think that it’s important not to use an already established name unless you really are happy owning what comes with it. Because you will end up owning it.

    How about “cultural critic?” You could use “culturist” for short sometimes.

    Since you are focusing on structures of power, perhaps “culturo
    -structural critic” or “sturturo-cultural critic.”

  8. The word you are looking for is “egalitarian.” If you study the history of egalitarianism, you’ll find that its fundamental target of criticism is oppressive social hierarchy. Think, for instance, of Mill’s *The Subjection of Women*, Rousseau’s *Discourse on the Origins of Inequality*, Sieyès’s *Essay on Privileges*, Tawney’s *
    Equality*, Ambedkar’s *Annihilation of Caste*, and bell hooks’s *Ain’t I a Woman?*. Egalitarians argue that we should replace hierarchical social relations with social relations of equality. Bronzerecluse is right to connect the critique of oppressive hierarchy with anarchism, which I take to be a branch of egalitarianism. Feminism is another branch.

  9. “Egalitarian” seems to have more of a cultural-historical meaning, to me, than a word like “kyriarchy” does, or might. It seems to have more of a moral tone, rather than an aloof theoretical tone, is what I mean.

  10. Nice point, Elizabeth.
    I think, Jennifer, that “kriarchy” is looking at something like a the problem, while “egalitarian” is looking at the solution or resolution.

  11. Going back to the original request: If you consider “egalitarian” in opposition, not to the neologistic “kyriarchical”, but to the cultural-historical “authoritarian”, its appositeness to a critique of objectivity in science becomes clear. Whose objectivity? The authorities’. Whose science? The authorities’.

  12. But the opposition between authoritarian and egalitarian is just another Western dichotomy or dualism! It is even worse when they start to carry moral connotations. Then we have those who laud authoritarianism on the right, and those who laud egalitarianism on the left — and the Western psyche being totally split (schizoid) as a consequence!

    What I am getting at is that what these words are liable to connote, in a purely formalistic sense, cannot be carried over into the realm of psychology. In the latter sense, we are all both authoritarian and egalitarian. That is hard to escape. Insofar as we organise ourselves under different emblems and logos, we are authoritarian. Insofar as we also necessarily facilitate the well being of others than ourselves, we are egalitarian. But we are never just one or the other.

    Just a word of caution about getting carried away by the apparent efficacy of having the right buzz word. It could be self deceptive.

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