Chela Sandoval (*1956) is a postcolonial and third world feminist theorist. Her work is concerned with methods of opposition to dominant structures, especially US third world feminism, and criticizes the ways in which dominant white feminist theory sidelines other feminisms such as those developed by women of colour. Sandoval calls this her “science of oppositional ideology” or “methodology of the oppressed”. “Oppositional consciousness” emerges from a conscious break with ideology while remaining located within it. In a 1991 essay, she defined five types of oppositional consciousness: equal rights, revolutionary, supremacist, separatist and differential. As a transformatory practice for both practitioner and audience, differential consciousness further operates as a method for examining and contesting the other forms of oppositional consciousness. It is also Sandoval’s main research interest as its practice exemplifies US third world feminism for her. Differential consciousness “operates like the clutch of an automobile: the mechanism that permits the driver to select, engage and disengage gears in a system for the transmission of power”.


Sandoval’s oppositional consciousness also extends to questioning, rewriting and decolonizing theory in the face of the current neocolonizing mode of globalization and “academic apartheid”. As Angela Y Davis explains Sandoval’s project: “Sandoval identifies important ways in which critical and cultural theorists have worked under the philosophical and political influences of subordinated communities in pursuit of liberation”. As someone who is highly aware of the feedback loop between academic and activist theorizing and political practices, Sandoval has argued against theoretical and activist divisions that run along lines of “race, sex, class, gender, and identity”.


Essential Reading
Sandoval, Chela (1991) U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World. Genders 10 (Spring 1991).
Sandoval, Chela (2000) Methodology of the Oppressed. Book Series: Theory Out of Bounds. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.


Further Reading
Sandoval, Chela (1998) “Mestizaje as method: Feminists-of-color challenge the canon.” Living Chicana theory, pp 352-370.
Haraway, Donna J (1991) A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism
in the Late Twentieth Century
In: Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Routledge.


What are the criticisms that Chela Sandoval directs at white feminisms?
What makes Chela Sandoval optimistic when it comes to opposing entrenched oppressive systems?
How does “differential consciousness” work as a mode of opposition and critique?


Submitted by Angela Last

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