Title: Feminist Ethics and the Project of Democracy


Just days before I gave birth to my son, on March 29, 2003, my dissertation prospectus was approved. I worked on my dissertation from the summer of 2003-December 2005. The process of researching and writing this dissertation was exhilarating, stimulating, enlightening and painful. On several occasions, I recall (almost literally) feeling like I was treading water and barely keeping my head above the surface. It was hard. But it was manageable and did involve moments of joy.

I think it helped that I was also taking care of a baby full-time and had to squeeze in writing moments whenever and wherever I could fit them. Being with my son, Fletcher, reminded me that the dissertation was just a dissertation, and only one part of my life. It also served as a reality check; sure, writing a dissertation was difficult, but it was nothing compared to taking care of a brand new baby 24 hours a day. Day after day…after day.

While no parts of my dissertation have ever been published and I have sometimes had difficulty recalling its title (admittedly, my title here is pretty boring and forgettable), my dissertation was/is still an important project for me and my intellectual history. The work that I documented in my dissertation, work that had been brewing for years in my undergraduate and master’s theses, serves as the foundation for many of the research and writing projects that I’m currently working on. My second chapter on feminist trickster role models, serves as a blueprint for my own visions of how-to-be in the world. In that chapter, I discuss three different models for radical subjectivity: the troublemaker, outlaw and storyteller. In the time since writing it, I’ve deepened my understanding of these subjectivities—and complicated them too. But, the basic idea of these different models, especially the troublemaker and the storyteller, continue to surface in my thinking, writing and creating. My third chapter on home and coalition connects to my continued interest in crafting my own understanding of home and belonging and functions as some of the background for my current project, Where do you belong? And, my fourth chapter on the virtues and the livable life offer some of my first writings on virtue ethics and grief/life.

As I think about the influence of my dissertation on my current projects, I realize that it, like most of what I did in my Ph.D program, wasn’t simply a hoop to jump through, or an academic hazing ritual to endure. What I did in my dissertation was meaningful and important to me and my ever shifting understandings of the world. Was it meaningful to the academy? No. Did it generate a dozen articles and/or a book? No. What it did do was give me the time to craft a plan of thinking/feeling/engaging work that could last a lifetime. I definitely don’t agree now with all that I wrote 7 years ago, but there’s enough in my pithy, 165 page, dissertation to trouble and inspire me for a long time. Cool. In thinking about my dissertation in this account, I’ve come up with another compelling reason for why I went to graduate school.