Aboriginal women and categorization : themes in feminist theory

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Irvine, Kathryn Elizabeth
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The topic of this essay concerns the categorization of Aboriginal women understood in the context of feminist social theory. The initial phase of analysis is an identification and elucidation of a theoretical issue in current feminist debate. Specific analysis is offered of the gender/difference debate in terms of its conceptual tensions and plausible resolutions. The outcome identifies the need for a methodology which justifies both general concepts (e.g., "women," "gender") as well as those particular conceptualizations applicable to differences. The next phase of the analysis connects these theoretical concerns to an important social problem by an elucidation of the way in which the issues implicit in the gender/difference debate are applicable to feminist criminology, notably those concerns surrounding the category "incarcerated Aboriginal women." The third phase of explanatory support for this thesis appeals to a contemporary writer's interpretation of Max Weber's view of "ideal types" as a way to elucidate the meaning and justification of categories used by feminist social theorists. This view is found applicable to the feminist categories implicit in the gender/difference debate and specifically in the manner in which it illuminates the category of "incarcerated Aboriginal woman." In the final phase, a summation is provided of the use of Weber's ideal type in enhancing feminine discourse and revealing the misrepresentation involved in the category, "incarcerated Aboriginal woman." The category has functioned in a misleading way to characterize Aboriginal women as different, marked and inferior; a misrepresentation which is ineffective in promoting meaningful social practice and policy initiatives.