4 Yale J.L. & Feminism 13 (1991-1992)
From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway

handle is hein.journals/yjfem4 and id is 19 raw text is: From Practice to Theory, or What is a White
Woman Anyway?
Catharine A. MacKinnont
And ain't I a woman?
Sojourner Truth'
Black feminists speak as women because we are women ....
Audre Lorde2
It is common to say that something is good in theory but not in practice.
I always want to say, then it is not such a good theory, is it? To be good in
theory but not in practice posits a relation between theory and practice that
places theory prior to practice, both methodologically and normatively, as if
theory is a terrain unto itself. The conventional image of the relation between
the two is first theory, then practice. You have an idea, then act on it. In legal
academia you theorize, then try to get some practitioner to put it into practice.
To be more exact, you 'read law review articles, then write more law review
articles. The closest most legal academics come to practice is teaching-their
students, most of whom will practice, being regarded by many as an
occupational hazard to their theorizing.
The postmodern version of the relation between theory and practice is
discourse unto death. Theory begets no practice, only more text. It proceeds
as if you can deconstruct power relations by shifting their markers around in
your head. Like all formal idealism, this approach to theory tends
unselfconsciously to reproduce existing relations of dominance, in part because
it is an utterly removed elite activity. On this level, all theory is a form of
practice, because it either subverts or shores up existing deployments of power,
in their martial metaphor. As an approach to change, it is the same as the
conventional approach to the theory/practice relation: head-driven, not
world-driven. Social change is first thought about, then acted out. Books relate
to books, heads talk to heads. Bodies do not crunch bodies or people move
t Catharine A. MacKinnon is Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. This paper
benefitted from the comments of members of the Collective on Women of Color and the Law at Yale Law
School.
1. BLACK WOMEN IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN LIFE: THEIR WORDS, THEIR THOUGHTS,
THEIR FEELINGS 235 (Bert J. Loewenberg & Ruth Bogin eds., 1976).
2. AUDRE LORDE, SISTER OUTSIDER 60 (1984). The whole quotation is Black feminists speak as
women because we are women and do not need others to speak for us.
Copyright 0 1991 by Catharine A. MacKinnon

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