Review of Passionate Politics: The Life and Times of Charlotte Bunch
By Mary Hawkesworth

An Interview with Sharon La Cruise
By Anne Keefe

Review of Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock
By Zoë Burkholder


Charlotte Bunch and her life long partner Roxanna Carrillo. Used with permission.

  issue 4.2 |  

Journal Issue 4.2


An Interview with Charlotte Bunch

Interview by Alyssa Rorke

Alyssa Rorke: I want to start with the broad idea of passionate politics because in this issue of Films for the Feminist Classroom we're going to have a review of the documentary Passionate Politics. So I wanted to unpack that a little bit, if you could start with the idea of passionate politics. I know you aren't the only one to use that term and I've been thinking about what it means to me, and I'd love to hear what it means to someone like you, as you've used it in your work.

Charlotte Bunch: Well the term "passionate politics" --when I first named my collection of essays, 1968-1986,1 the term was something that I came to in talking with various people about how do we think about the relationship between being passionate about a subject and being passionate about making change, as well as having a political perspective and analysis. Also, for me at that time, the subtitle was equally important, which was "Feminist Theory in Action." At that point, I had been much more self-consciously thinking about how to connect theory and activism. And so in a sense, passionate politics was a term--I know bell hooks has also used it later; bell and I had always felt very connected in our work. I don't honestly know, I think she used it later, but I don't have any interest in who follows what terms and how we inspire each other because I think that she has also, in her way, from her cultural political work, always been very inspired to think about what are the consequences politically of the ideas that we think about and to embrace passion as a positive term about caring, about being interested in and being determined to do something. So I don't think there's a technical definition, but that's the way in which I've used the term. And when we went to do the film, again we went through the same process. We weren't initially going to call it "Passionate Politics." We were going to give it a new name, and we were playing around with different titles for the film, and I just kept coming back to feeling like "Passionate Politics" expressed it better than anything else we came up with. So we said, we'll just use it again, in a new moment and, in that sense, still wanting to embrace the passion of connecting political ideas with political action.

AR: I know when bell hooks used "passionate politics" it was in her book, Feminism is for Everybody,2 which was much later. But the connection that I saw was that she emphasizes the idea of feminist theory as doing, it's the action, you do feminism. And something also that I noticed in her work is that it's very accessible, when it comes to feminist scholarship, hers is very accessible, and I know you had mentioned in a 1996 interview3 the importance of feminist scholarship being accessible. Would you like to expand on that?

CB: Absolutely. I think that I share, and she's articulated it very well when she says that you "do feminism." And for me, when I wrote about feminist theory in the 70s and early 80s, I was really trying to get people to understand that there were interpretations of the world, what I would call theory and analysis, behind the decisions they made on their strategies and their actions. At that time it was really more to get political activists to think about: how do we have a consistency between our "doing feminism," as I think she said really well, and the ideas that we believe in? Today I think feminist theory has become much too abstract as a whole, and lost the fact that it's supposed to be linked to how you interpret what it takes to change the world. So I would almost put the emphasis the other way around. In the 70s we were so busy doing, it was often hard to stop and think about our analysis behind what we're doing. Today I think there's such an emphasis on all the theoretical frameworks, that people often lose track of the fact that the reason you are interested in that is because you want to do something. So yes, passionate politics is about, as you said, the doing of feminism, and for everyone. And it's not for me, writing about feminist ideas and thinking. I don't even use the word "theory" very often anymore because I feel like it's come to mean something very abstract and academic. But, good theory, to me, is something that helps make clear what your choices are, and what you're doing, and what will be the impact of it.

AR: So that kind of brings us to the classroom, and when feminist theory is brought into the classroom, that's something I'm really interested in, when you talk about the different ways you brought it into the classroom and the way you taught. I know in Women's Studies Quarterly, Carolyn Shrewsbury put it pretty broadly but I like the way she said it, that the members of the feminist classroom are "connected in a net of relationships with those who care about each other's learning."4 Do you think it's more complicated than that?

CB: Well I think that's a wonderful description of part of it. I think it is more than that because I think that's more of the feminist process part, which is that you are engaged in a process where you care about each other's learning because you have something in common that you want to make happen in the world. And I would put more of the emphasis on the teaching, which is about helping [you] to think more clearly about what you want to do with your life in the world. And, yes, I think the engagement with each other is a process toward that. But my goal in teaching today, and what I've focused on in my courses at Rutgers is what gets called "public policy," but that's because I'm trying to show what feminism means to actually making political change at the policy level. And that's the work I've done in human rights and advocacy around that. So whether it's everyday life, whether it's movement, whether it's public policy, teaching is, to me, about making people better able to reflect on how they want to live their lives, and what actions they want to take for change in that process. It can be public policy, or it can be how you live in your family; it can be at all kinds of levels.

AR: So do you think that's what keeps feminist activism in the university environment? Is feminist activism still present in the university? How does the activism stay alive?


1 Charlotte Bunch. Passionate Politics: Feminist Theory in Action. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987).

2 bell hooks. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. (Pluto Press, 2000).

3 Heidi Hartmann, Ellen Bravo, Charlotte Bunch, Nancy Hartsock, Roberta Spalter-Roth, Linda Williams and Maria Blanco. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 21, No. 4, Feminist Theory and Practice (Summer, 1996), pp. 917-951.

4 Carolyn M. Shrewsbury. Women's Studies Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 3/4, Feminist Pedagogy (Fall - Winter, 1987), pp. 6-14.


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