(2005). Unlocking Hierarchy: Luce Irigaray, Entrustment and Contiguity
In this paper I want to address a central conundrum in non-hierarchical organizing: How do we both recognize difference—that we are not all the same—without subjecting difference to its standard placement in our symbolic structures—difference as a necessary support to, but always lesser than, the same? In order to organize non-hierarchically, must we all be the same? If not, how can we be different--and not lesser--as we organize non-hierarchically? How can hierarchical relations not be reconstituted among and between the different as they organize together? <br><br>To answer these questions I want to look at three bodies of work which deal the most comprehensively with the assumptions underlying hierarchy and how we might organize non-hierarchically: the work of Helen Brown and her focus on the teaching, learning and sharing of all the skills of organizing in the construction of a flexible non-hierarchical social order, based on the achievement of equality through sameness; the work of the French philosopher, linguist and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray and her focus on the reconfiguration of the symbolic structures of Western thought through addressing ‘the question of the age which must be thought’-- sexual difference-- and by extension difference and its relationship to sameness; and finally, the work of the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective, who draw on Irigaray in their theorizing of affidamento or entrustment, a non-hierarchical relationship between the woman who knows and the woman who wants. It is a relationship which, by authorizing a place from which the female subject may speak, is the basis for the reconfiguration of the symbolic structure from hierarchy to contiguity, or for sexual difference next to sexual difference, difference next to difference, creating the conditions of possibility for contiguous organizing. <br><br>How, then, are non-hierarchical organizing practices to be achieved? Helen Brown’s work on the teaching, learning and sharing of all the skills of organizing in order to produce the flexible social order which underpins non-hierarchical organizing, as carefully done as it is, founders in two ways. First, the teaching, learning and sharing of all the skills of organizing is indeed a first step towards non-hierarchical relations, but it is not enough because it fails to confront its central dilemma—it depends on the rhetoric of sameness to confer equality, so difference among and between women must be repressed, rather than understood as a source of creativity. Secondly, it founders on the relationship between the one who teaches and the one who learns, between the woman who knows and the woman who wants. How is this relationship between those who want to learn and those who already know different organizing skills to be structured, other than hierarchically? How, in particular, are we to organize non-hierarchically among and between the different, without eventually succumbing to some form of hierarchical organizing? <br><br>In her work on sexual difference, the French philosopher Luce Irigaray directly confronts this question of difference as necessarily always lesser than the Same if the construction of the Same is to retain its coherence. In her analysis of our symbolic structures--our languages, the stories, myths, religions and philosophies we tell ourselves to make sense of our world--she maintains that we can rethink these symbolic structures to make a place for sexual difference—and by extension, difference—as contiguous in relationship to each other rather than as hierarchical in relationship to the Same. This Same or the One is theoretically neutral, but is in effect masculine. It is the face of the man who sees himself reflected in the mirror of theory, and, mistaking himself as the sole representative of the human, erases his own sexual difference, and women, leaving no place for sexual difference, and difference, as other than a necessary, but erased, construct. In our present symbolic structures, Irigaray argues, women hold the place of difference. They are only objects; they lack a place from which to speak and name their actions as subjects. Thus, as long as women are without a place in the symbolic structures from which to speak as subjects, as long as sexual difference and difference have no place other than as lesser, hierarchy will inevitably reassert itself. <br><br>The work of the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective and their theorizing of affidamento or entrustment can provide us with some understanding of how we might go about rethinking the theoretical and practical exemplification of contiguous organizing practices. Entrustment provides us with a way of rethinking the relationship of the woman who knows to the woman who wants as other than hierarchical. It is a relationship based on reciprocity and on honouring the authority of the woman who knows, authority meaning the place from which to speak in the symbolic structure as the female subject, the female subject next to, but not lesser than, the male subject. It means that a place is created where one had not existed before, for sexual difference, and by extension, for difference, to exist in a relationship of contiguity: for sexual difference next to sexual difference, difference next to difference. To the MWBC, honouring the authority of the woman who knows in a reciprocal relationship with the woman who wants, means that in the act of organizing together, we at the same time reconfigure our symbolic structures, where the difference between the woman who wants and the woman who knows can exist in contiguous rather than in hierarchical relations. <br><br>As Kate Young has stressed, the most effective organizing is the least hierarchical, and thus the most attentive to how difference can be reconfigured as contiguous. And in so doing, we reconfigure symbolic structures as contiguous: difference next to difference, sexual difference next to sexual difference, where the woman as subject finally speaks, and where hierarchy is no longer inevitable as we organize together.