RECON Online Working Paper 2011/13

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'Europe', 'Womanhood' and 'Islam'

Re-aligning Contested Concepts via the Headscarf Debate 


Nora Fisher Onar (Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul)



"Europe", "Womanhood", and "Islam" are concepts infused with what Ricoeur called a "surplus of meaning." That is, they bear diverse and often contradictory significations for observers at different times and places. This paper compares the interplay of tensions between the concepts by unpacking how they align in the context of three different public philosophies, liberal modernism, and what the paper terms „atavistic‟ and „cosmopolitan‟ postmodernism. It does so, moreover, with reference to empirical debates over the headscarf in European and/or Europeanized contexts. It shows that when "Europe," "Womanhood," and "Islam" are read through a liberal modernist prism they can be aligned to reduce tensions; however, this requires a critical examination of several assumptions associated with liberal modernism. The paper goes on to show that atavistic postmodern readings point to the incommensurability of the three concepts, while cosmopolitan postmodern frames represent a promising platform for their reconciliation. In so doing, the paper also highlights the structural affinities in feminist and Islamist modes of response to liberal modernity such that it is possible to talk about first-, second-, and third-wave Islamism as well as feminism.


Cosmopolitanism ― Feminist Discourse ― Gender Policy ― Identity ― Islamism ― Political Science ― Political Theory ― Postmodernism



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