Binary oppositions

By Joanna Chojnicka

Over the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about… binary thinking. Seeing and understanding the world in black-and-white. How the whole intricacy and complicatedness of a problem gets reduced to two apparently contradictory options that may have actually little to do with the original issue. We saw it with Brexit, where the social, cultural, and environmental change, the influence of neoliberal capitalism and globalisation, emancipatory movements, various shades and aspects of migration, racism, and lots of other issues suddenly became the simple choice between Leave or Exit.

Binary thinking is not new, of course. The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss claimed that some basic binary pairs, such as ‘life’ vs. ‘death’, ‘maternal’ vs. ‘paternal’, ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’, or ‘raw’ vs. ‘cooked’, constituted the building blocks of myths, out of which we, humans, developed the ability to think conceptually.

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Women and language

By Joanna Chojnicka

Here’s a short overview of the approaches to women’s language in the history of linguistics. It is rather theoretical, but I can relate the ways I have been treated by some men (and women) over the years to some of these theoretical reflections. Maybe I can write another, more personal post about it, if I find the courage. Or maybe some readers would want to share their experiences in a guest post?

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Nationalising women’s bodies (3)

Analysis of party programs

By Joanna Chojnicka

There are some Polish parties that have the liberalization of the abortion law in their programs, including SLD (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, Democratic Left Alliance), SDPL (Socjaldemokracja Polska, Social Democracy of Poland), the Greens (Zieloni), Twój Ruch (Your Move) or the most recently established party Razem (Together). These parties had, respectively, 35, 0, 1, 11 and 0 representatives in the lower house of the Parliament (together 47 MPs; the lower house (Pol. Sejm) has in total 460 members) before last year’s election. Currently, they all have… 0 representatives.

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Nationalising women’s bodies (2)

The role of language in the abortion debate

By Joanna Chojnicka

In critical approaches to social sciences it is common ground that language plays a vital role in sustaining and reproducing the social status quo, including societal power relations. Critical theory also emphasizes that the goal of social studies should be to facilitate social change, to make social life more equal, just and fair, instead of merely “objectively” describing social reality. Still, as a researcher and an activist I am afraid that the connection between theory and practice – or academia and “real life” – remains weak. Academics tend to produce complex theories that are too abstract to be applied to concrete real-life situations. These theories are circulated within the academia, which means in isolation from where they are actually needed. And when they do find their way out into the “real world”, they are often perceived as too difficult to understand or impossible to relate personal experiences to (10).
I would like to work for bringing academia and “real life” closer together – it is one of the goals of this blog as well. I will try to post more ideas for, and examples of, a more socially engaged academic practice in the future. In the meantime, I would like to show how the current abortion debate in Poland illustrates in a very practical, pragmatic, down-to-earth way the significance of language use in social life. In this context, it really ceases to be a purely theoretical idea.

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Nationalising women’s bodies (1)

Discussing the total abortion ban in Poland

By Joanna Chojnicka

A little bit over one year ago, in June 2015, I gave a presentation at the University of Bielefeld about the abortion controversy in Poland. The conservative president Andrzej Duda had been elected just couple of weeks before, so the talk seemed well timed. I said that while women had been expecting a change in the abortion law for a long time, with the new president the law was more likely to be further restricted than liberalized – contrary to those expectations.
But Duda’s election did not cause much concern in Poland. People were saying that a president does not have much power anyway, and that the new parliament to be elected in October 2015 would balance the conservative president. Well, it did not. The victory went to Duda’s party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), and with it came many changes that made it clear the party does not care much for democratic values. Including a proposal of a total ban on abortion.

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