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Philosophy Speakers ALUMNI SERIES: Shelley Park (Central Florida), "The FLDS Mother as Subaltern Subject: Epistemic Violence in Neoliberal Understandings of the Rural 'Other'"

Date & Time:
January 15, 2016 | 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Social Sciences Tower, Room 1253

Alumni Series 2016 Speaker

About the Talk

In 2008, over 400 children living on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a rural Texas polygamist community of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), were forcibly removed from their mothers’ care by State troopers responding to allegations of child abuse. Although the children were subsequently returned due to a lack of evidence supporting abuse allegations, many remain convinced that children on the YFZ ranch—and in other FLDS communities—are imperiled and in need of rescue.  In this paper, I critically examine the public discourse—including some feminist discourse—concerning the well-being of FLDS children.  Drawing on queer theory and postcolonial theory, I suggest that neoliberal, metronormative ideologies have played a central but unacknowledged role in solidifying caricatures of the FLDS mother as a ‘bad’ mother. I begin by tracing the emergence of the FLDS mother as a suspect figure—a figure who has shifted in the public imagination from a victim of oppression to herself a perpetrator of abuse.  Comparing and contrasting depictions of suburban and rural polygamist mothers, I subsequently argue that the demonization of the FLDS mother may be more closely tied to her rural mores than to her status as a polygamist.  Lastly, I examine the parallels and intersections of metronormativity and colonization. Here I suggest that our difficulties hearing the FLDS mother’s pleas to be reunited with her children as serious ethical pleas worthy of our regard reveal her as a subaltern subject. Insofar as the FLDS mother is culturally, politically, and geographically excluded from hegemonic discourse, there is no intelligible space from which she can speak.  I conclude that feminists and others concerned with the well-being of FLDS women and children must be vigilant about our own tendency to perpetuate violence against them. 

About the Speaker

Shelley Park (UCalgary BA '82, MA '84) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Central Florida. Her main research and teaching interests include feminist theory, queer theory, postcolonial theory, cultural studies, and motherhood studies.  She has published work in various professional journals and anthologies on topics such as recovered memories of abuse, feminist therapy, transracial adoption, queer families, cybermothering, women in higher education, and multiculturalism in the academy.  Her current research focuses on mothering within queer, postmodern families.  During her time at Central Florida she has served as Director of the Women's Studies Program, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, and founding co-editor of the Florida Philosophical Review.  She is the author of Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood: Resisting Monomaternalism in Adoptive, Lesbian, Blended, and Polygamous Families (SUNY Press, 2013).

Shelley Park's website

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