About Denise Thompson


Lesbian Feminism

Refereed Papers

Conference Papers

Work in Progress


About Denise Thompson

To begin at the very beginning, I was born in Mt Isa, Queensland, Australia, on 14 August 1940. My father was a carpenter, working in the mines building whatever wooden structures silver, lead, copper and zinc mines require to keep them operating. We left Mt Isa when I was six months old and came to Sydney where I have lived ever since.

I didn't go to university until the age of 31 and a half, at the beginning of 1972 when I already had two small daughters aged four and eighteen months. The only job I have ever had in a university lasted for two years at the end of the 1970s, when I was employed as a part-time tutor. I have a PhD in Sociology from the University of New South Wales (1996), for a thesis called Against the Dismantling of Feminism which was later published by Sage under the title of Radical Feminism Today. (See Publications).

I've been what is euphemistically known as an independent scholar for many years, reading, writing and (sometimes) publishing feminist theory. At times I've been technically unemployed, i.e. I wasn't paid for the work I was doing as an independent scholar; and sometimes friends have got me jobs that paid. Currently, I work for money on a casual basis as a Research Officer.

My research interests include: 

  • feminist theory; 
  • social and political thought, especially Marxism and liberalism; 
  • theories of individualism, liberty, pluralism, justice, tolerance, determinism, essentialism, cultural relativism, and political distinctions between right and left 
  • economic theories of unemployment and poverty;
  • globalisation, development and underdevelopment, international relations; 
  • government policy in relation to unemployment and poverty, especially the Howard government's 'Mutual Obligation' policies in Australia and 'welfare reform' in the US; and 
  • theorising forms of social domination.

My career as a social theorist has not been a happy one. In fact, it is a history of remarkable failure given how much work I've done. It is also, I hasten to add, a history of remarkable persistence. I've kept going, despite the discouragement and despite being told over and over again, in various more or less antagonistic ways, that nobody wanted to hear what I was saying and that I had no right to say it anyway.

In the earlier phase, when I was trying to theorise lesbian feminism, no one seemed to understand what I was saying. Well, that's not entirely true. There were lots of women (and some men) who understood quite well, and with whom I had many marvellous conversations. And I gave a number of papers that didn't arouse too much antagonism, and some that were even well received. Still, there were times when I was verbally attacked and personally insulted, told that I didn't know what I was talking about, that I was confused and my theory was meaningless, that I was arrogant and what I was doing was 'too academic'. Why this should have happened when, from my point of view, all I was doing was trying to join in a conversation, is unclear to this day. I suggest a number of reasons in the Lesbian Feminism section of the website. But who knows?

In the later phases, when I was trying to theorise feminism and then to write a theory of social domination, I was largely ignored. I did give papers at conferences, but that was only possible as long as the organisers were prepared to accept all papers offered - whenever any criteria of inclusion were applied, my paper was invariably rejected. Moreover, the numbers who came to my papers were small. (Seven people, of whom four were friends of mine, came to hear my paper, 'Feminism and the Problem of Power', presented at the Women in Philosophy conference, Australian National University, 1-3 July, 1989. The rest of the conference had gone to hear Liz Grosz whose paper was scheduled at the same time as mine. The gist of my argument in that paper can be found in the 'Patriarchy' section of Chapter 5 of Radical Feminism Today).

I did have some things published (see Publications), but most of what I sent to the academic journals was rejected. Once again, no one seemed to know what I was talking about. It would seem it was still incomprehensible, although this time it wasn't because it was too academic, this time it wasn't academic enough - it was out of the academic mainstream, old-fashioned, unpopular, polemical, took no account of the latest theoretical developments, etc. The criticisms were so persistent, and the misunderstandings so relentless, that the thought crossed my mind more than once that perhaps what I was writing didn't belong in academe. But I didn't know where else it belonged either.

Of course, there were people who knew what I was talking about, and even some who saw things in much the same way I did and had come to similar conclusions - otherwise I couldn't have continued. Even so, there were times when I felt quite crazy. I thought I was saying something interesting and important and saying it well, and yet the reactions I was getting, whether noisy denunciations, sneering misrepresentations, patronising advice or contemptuous silence, were telling me I was not. Once again I had thought I was joining in a conversation. I was trying to push the framework further so that it didn't get bogged down in silly little meaningless squabbles about 'equality/difference' or 'identity', or more serious ones about the 'racism' of 'white, middle-class' feminists. 

I thought I was proposing solutions to many of the problems academic feminism was supposedly agonising over. I've subsequently come to the conclusion that there is far too much at stake in keeping the problems on the boil, to allow them to be solved and move on. Those who had the power to allow my solutions a public airing, i.e. editors and peer reviewers of academic journals, couldn't see them. They didn't just disagree with me, they missed the point entirely. More often than not, they re-cast what I had said back into their own terms and castigated me soundly for something that bore only a superficial or distorted resemblance to what I actually said. They all wanted me to write the paper they would have written on the same topic, while at the same time they couldn't read the one I did write.

It's true that I didn't try very hard in the academic publishing game. There are people who keep on trying through dozens of rejections, and who have some degree of success through sheer persistence. But I found that I simply couldn't cope with such profound misunderstandings and outright contempt. It indicated a level of corruption I was quite unable to deal with. So I've given up, and this website is the alternative.

So what are the problems I have been trying to solve? The details can be found in what follows on the website. In the most general terms, what I've been attempting to do for the last twenty or so years can be described as an attempt to argue a theory of social domination. 

The starting point is feminism - radical feminism, although I disagree with the typology (see Publications and Radical Feminism Today) - with its identification of and challenge to male domination. The theory then moves on to domination in general via the realisation that all forms of domination are male domination, however else they might be characterised as well, because male domination is the earliest form of dehumanisation in each human life. It's the first one we all meet, the one that sets the pattern for all the others. If to be female is to be not fully human, then to be male is to be not fully human either, in the sense that relations between men will be marked by invidious hierarchies of worth and worthlessness, and struggles for supremacy, sometimes deadly, that only the most ruthless few can win. The two most common of those hierarchies between men are designated by the terms 'race' and 'class' (about which I say a great deal elsewhere - for race, see Radical Feminism Today; for class, see anything on economic domination).

This move to theorising domination in general will be posted in the Work in Progress section of the website, although a number of earlier attempts have already been included among the Refereed papers and the Conference papers. I have written a great deal on this but it's not yet in a publishable form.

May-July 2003/January 2004

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