Soper, Kate

views updated

Soper, Kate




Office—Department of Philosophy, London Metropolitan University, 31 Jewry St., London EC3N 2EY, England. E-mail—[email protected]


London Metropolitan University, London, England, reader in philosophy; writer.


(Translator) Sebastiano Timpanaro, The Freudian Slip, NLB (London, England), 1976.

(Translator) Pietro Chiodi, Sartre and Marxism, Harvester Press (Hassocks, England), 1976.

On Human Needs: Open and Closed Theories in a Marxist Perspective, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1981.

Humanism and Anti-Humanism, Open Court (La Salle, IL), 1986.

Troubled Pleasures: Writings on Politics, Gender, and Hedonism, Verso (London, England), 1990.

What Is Nature?: Culture, Politics, and the Non- Human, Basil Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

(Translator, with Martin Ryle) Carlo Ginzburg, Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(With Martin Ryle) To Relish the Sublime?: Culture and Self-Realisation in Postmodern Times, Verso (London, England), 2002.

Contributor of articles and essays to scholarly periodicals.


Kate Soper is a philosopher whose concerns encompass feminism, the green movement, how best to define nature, and other issues of political and cultural moment. Most of her works—and all of her important works—have been published in England and America and are seriously debated in philosophical circles and university settings. "Soper is a humanist in the best sense," declared David Fernbach in the New Left Review. "Her contributions to socialist theory, her commitment to the green movement, and her struggle as a feminist, are informed by a deeply considered notion of the human good, and one that seeks to keep up with the times." Soper's arguments are sophisticated and, at times, complex as they challenge fundamental assumptions about human agency, gender roles, and patterns of resource consumption.

On Human Needs: Open and Closed Theories in a Marxist Perspective offers a critique of theories of needs, as elaborated by authors such as Karl Marx, John Locke, and Sigmund Freud. Soper explores the ambiguities surrounding human "needs" and "abilities," especially as Marx articulated them. Sonia Kruks in Ethics praised Soper's book as "a deeply optimistic yet profoundly disturbing comment on our times." A Choice correspondent deemed On Human Needs "a first-rate exegesis and criticism of Marx, Freud, and the British political philosophers." S.P. Sayers in the British Book News felt that the work "covers an interesting and important area of philosophical discussion," namely, the limitations in Marx's formulation of a distinct and immutable set of human needs.

Soper's Humanism and Anti-Humanism examines the work of modernist writers such as Marx, Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as postmodernist philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, in order to expound upon the strengths and weaknesses of humanism. According to Nancy S. Love in Ethics, the author "elevates the humanist/antihumanist debate by subtly distinguishing among positions." Love described Soper's position as "sensible." Similarly, in the British Book News, Margaret Whitford noted that Soper's "intellectual issues are discussed critically and incisively." Whitford concluded by calling Humanism and Anti-Humanism an "excellent introduction to the subject," and D.C. Lee in Choice described the work as "readable and enjoyable."

Troubled Pleasures: Writings on Politics, Gender, and Hedonism is a collection of prose pieces that are "uniformly insightful, balanced, and provocative," to quote a Choice reviewer. Soper challenges the reader to evaluate personal pleasures for the greater good—or more likely, ill—that they perpetuate in the global environment. According to Judith Squires in the Feminist Review, what emerges in Soper's collection "is a humanist concern with need and how to satisfy its various manifestations, how to realize the conditions of human flourishing." Squires continued: "The voguish indifference to values which has come to dominate theoretical writings in recent years is here firmly rejected in favour of an avowedly ethical concern with social relations." In the Women's Review of Books, Erika Munk observed that Soper "addresses questions of difference, construction, equality and ethics already much debated" and ultimately "achieves a nice fusion of the academic and real writing, without either condescending ‘accessibility’ or granite jargon." Munk declared the book "profoundly useful to anyone looking for feminist analysis that's both theoretically sophisticated and enabling."

In What Is Nature?: Culture, Politics, and the Non- Human, Soper poses a simple question that becomes more complex as it undergoes examination. Drawing from feminism, environmentalism, history, cultural criticism, and philosophy, Soper analyzes many preconceived notions of nature that, upon deeper reflection, reveal a human bias and a cultural construct. "Pondering the related issues of environmental crisis and sustainability, readers will benefit greatly from close study of Kate Soper's extended essay" on the differences between nature and "nature," according to Bill Luckin in the Journal of Urban History. Luckin added: "It is fitting that nature and culture themselves should seem as elusive and philosophically multifaceted at the end as at the beginning of this invigorating study." Feminist Review correspondent Lynda Birke maintained that Soper "has done an admirable job of negotiating this tricky terrain;h3 . This is a painstaking book, taking the reader through philosophical arguments in fine detail. The ideas are complex (befitting the complexity of concepts of nature), but are clearly presented."

In 2002 Soper and coauthor Martin Ryle released To Relish the Sublime?: Culture and Self-Realisation in Postmodern Times. In his Times Literary Supplement review, Brian Dillon contended that the authors' goal is to formulate an agenda "to maintain a notion of cultural value, of the power of culture to transform both individual lives and social bodies in liberating and fulfilling ways, without succumbing to … elitism." Dillon found the book's arguments "exemplary" for the authors' "desire to hold on to a conception of critical subjectivity in the face of what they see as the dehumanizing effects of the workplace and media."

In addition to her original books, Soper has translated several volumes from the Italian, including Carlo Ginzburg's Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance.



British Book News, March, 1982, S.P. Sayers, review of On Human Needs: Open and Closed Theories in a Marxist Perspective, pp. 156-157; May, 1986, Margaret Whitford, review of Humanism and Anti-Humanism, p. 281.

Choice, March, 1982, review of On Human Needs, p. 964; September, 1986, D.C. Lee, review of Humanism and Anti-Humanism, p. 99; November, 1991, S.C. Schwarze, review of Troubled Pleasures: Writings on Politics, Gender and Hedonism, pp. 527-528; April, 1996, D. Christie, review of What Is Nature?: Culture, Politics and the Non-Human, pp. 1324-1325.

Ethics, July, 1987, Nancy S. Love, review of Humanism and Anti-Humanism, pp. 894-895; April, 1993, Sonia Kruks, review of On Human Needs, p. 633.

Feminist Review, spring, 1992, Judith Squires, review of Troubled Pleasures, pp. 118-120; autumn, 1998, Lynda Birke, review of What Is Nature?, pp. 124-125.

Journal of Urban History, Bill Luckin, review of What Is Nature?, p. 510.

New Left Review, January-February, 1997, David Fernbach, "How to Love Nature," pp. 149-155.

Times Literary Supplement, March 5, 1982, Richard Lindley, "The Philosophy of Need," p. 265; January 31, 2003, Brian Dillon, "A Becoming Role," p. 25.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1991, Erika Munk, "Feminist Freedoms," pp. 18-19.