Ferguson, Ann (1938–)

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Ann Ferguson, a socialist-feminist philosopher (PhD, Brown University, 1965; BA, Swarthmore College, 1959) teaches philosophy and women's studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her political support for a democratic socialism grew out of sustained involvement with the civil-rights movement, the antiVietnam War movement, the new left, and the women's liberation movement in the United States.

Ferguson is best known for her critique of male dominance and her formulation of the concept of sex/affective production (1989). She contends that Marxist accounts of class oppression and radical feminist accounts of heterosexist exploitation do not properly account for (a) the social energies involved in parenting, sexuality, and affective bonding and (b) the unequal, exploitative production and exchange of services between men and women in a patriarchal society (1991). Critiquing Sigmund Freud, Ferguson claims that affective bonding and sexual desires aim primarily not at biological reproduction but rather at connecting with other humans, queer or straight.

In early work, Ferguson highlighted women's potential as a revolutionary class. In Sexual Democracy (1991), she developed a materialist-feminist multisystems theory of oppression: that race, class, and gender function as dominant, semi-independent categories, and thus that the ideal of sisterhood is obstructed by race, caste, class, and sexual identities. Her advocacy of "gynandry" (1991), a play on "androgyny" (1977), not only critiques the ideology of the theory that gender roles naturally complement each other, but also calls for revaluing feminine strengths and for building a society free of patriarchal oppression. In her vision, the feminine is not a fixed gender trait. In her important aspect theory of the self, Ferguson noted that it is misguided to speak of one essential core self; it is more helpful to note that "one's sense of self and values" are context-dependent (1991, p. 105).

Expanding on her aspect theory of the self, Ferguson (1996) proposed building bridge identities as a strategy to counter positive- and essentialist-identity politics. Bridge identities "attempt to refuse the fixed identities given us by gender, race, class, and sexual differences" (1998a, p. 207) and reconstitute identities politically (1998b). For instance, when a feminist researcher from the global North wishes to network with people in the global South who are relatively disadvantaged, by self-questioning she can put her privileged position in check even to the point of destabilizing her identity. But by building a bridge identity, she can begin to recognize participants as subjects of resistance rather than as objects of knowledge (1998b). Ferguson (1998a) argues for a transitional feminist morality in which prostitution is defined as a morally risky practice, rather than, as most feminists define it, as a morally forbidden practice. In formulating a viable feminist ethico-politics, she affirms the political stance of subjects of resistance: sex workers who demand unionization and decriminalization. With a bridge-identity politics that refuses fixed identities of race, gender, etc., a feminist coalition could consistently support sex workers' rights locally and oppose trafficking in women internationally.

Ferguson exudes a passion for feminist coalitional and solidarity work with people who face marginalization due to capitalist, racist, or patriarchal forces. Her work is informed par excellence by the rich dialectical interplay of theory and practice.

See also Feminist Philosophy; Feminist Social and Political Philosophy; Marxist Philosophy; Social and Political Philosophy.


works by ferguson

"Androgyny as an Ideal for Human Development." In Feminism and Philosophy, edited by Mary Vetterling-Braggin, Frederick Elliston, and Jane English. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1977.

Blood at the Root: Motherhood, Sexuality, and Male Dominance. London: Pandora, 1989.

Sexual Democracy: Women, Oppression, and Revolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

"Bridge Identity Politics: A Feminist Integrative Ethics of International Development." Organization 3 (4) (1996): 571587.

"Prostitution as a Morally Risky Practice." In Daring to Be Good: Feminist Essays in Ethico-politics, edited by Bat-Ami Bar On and Ann Ferguson. New York: Routledge, 1998a.

"Resisting the Veil of Privilege: Building Bridge Identities as an Ethico-politics of Global Feminism." Hypatia 13 (3) (1998b): 95113.

Mechthild Nagel (2005)