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"Liberal Irony, Rhetoric, and Feminist Thought: A Unifying Third Wave Feminist Theory" Article Review

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

This article ties the three concepts of rhetoric, liberal ironism and feminism together to develop a basis for “a coherent, unifying, ironic feminist rhetorical theory” (Renegar & Sowards, 2003, p. 332). This basis includes the need to reconstruct language, the importance of solidarity among all people, the need for “social hope and optimism” and provides a theory that encourages differences among people (Renegar & Sowards, 2003, p. 332). First, Renegar and Sowards (2003) describe that there are many different types of feminists and when they come together they often end up fighting instead of “working toward some common feminist goal” (p. 334).  They suggest that social change could only happen if solidarity among the different types of feminists is achieved. Second, Rorty’s idea that people use their vocabularies to “share meaning about how we think about the world”, but because of limitations in our vocabulary “ we never actually generate a description that fully represents reality” is discussed (Renegar & Sowards, 2003, p. 337).  Therefore there is a need for contingency in individuals’ vocabularies to create new realities.  This is relevant to feminists because if the different types of feminists are able to create a new language they are more likely to come to a unifying theory and continue on their way to social order.  Third, a liberal ironist perspective is described to show it may be effective in uniting feminists with different perspectives because they would be forced to examine their own final vocabularies for limitations.  This would lead to the “bridging and respecting” of differences among feminists (Renegar & Sowards, 2003, p. 341). Fourth, Rorty’s ideas about solidarity and how it could work to bring together the different types of feminists are discussed.  The authors suggest that third world feminists are scared to confront older generation feminists because of their fear of an attack and solidarity would work to bridge the differences and “produce a useful feminist dialect across generations and experiences” (Renegar & Sowards, 2003, p. 344). Fifth, liberal irony and third wave feminism is discussed to suggest linking the two can help “resolve issues [among different feminists] with the vocabularies” that they use if feminists recognize that constant revising of “the way [they] think and speak” is necessary to come to a common agreement (Renegar & Sowards, 2003, p. 347).  Last, a section tying together the three ideas of rhetoric, liberal ironism and feminism is presented to review the articles contents and emphasize the need to bring these ideas together to create social change among feminists from different generations.   

Overall I would say this was a good article. The clarity in this article was outstanding, and truly left for little to no confusion from the reader. Other strong points include the detailed descriptions of each theory (i.e. contingency, liberal irony, solidarity, etc). The theories were explained very clearly with a lot of explanations and supporting documentation from Rorty to solidify the definitions given. Another strong point in this article was the clear and logical connections that were made between the theories and feminism.  Each section provided a detailed description towards the end of how that theory could be applied to feminism to unite feminists from different generations. I also really enjoyed that the authors clearly showed in this article that they are third wave feminists, saying things like “we believe” instead of “third wave feminists believe”.  I read few articles where the authors have the power to say “we”, suggesting they are a part of the group they are discussing, and not referring to a group “them” because they are simply researching this group and do not have real life associations with them. This suggested to me that the authors are claiming epistemic knowledge on the topic, which contributes positively to the validity of their claims. I think we are all more likely to believe that claims made from someone who has real life experiences on a subject to have more validly than someone’s claims who just researched the topic.

This article had few limitations that were worth noting. However, this article was limited in that it did not provide new ideas as much as it summarized Rorty’s ideas and applied them to feminism.  It is apparent that a lot of time went into describing Rorty’s theories in great detail. Personally, I found this very helpful, but the theory descriptions could probably be cut down without doing serious damage to the analysis.  More original thoughts about the connections between Rorty’s ideas and feminism may be useful for the application of these ideas in feminism. This may not benefit every reader, but it could be useful for the practicing feminist.  Although I do not believe this took away from the authors’ analysis, the article was also limited because it noticeably cited Rorty more often than the other references. Typically a broad range of citations is preferred to support ideas. 


Renegar, V. R., & Sowards, S. K. (2003). Liberal irony, rhetoric, and feminist thought: A unifying third wave feminist theory. Philosophy of Rhetoric, 36(4).




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