Theorists of Matricultures

8 point mandala“ReMembering Matricultures: Historiography of Subjugated Knowledges” by Irene Friesen Wolfstone is a literature review related to the study of matricultures. It traces the origins and related theories of the words matriarchy, matrilineal, matristic, modern matriarchal studies, and matriculture.  80 pp.



Adriana Cavarero is an Italian philosopher and feminist thinker. She is widely recognized in Italy and Europe  for her writings on feminism and theories of sexual difference, on Plato, on Hannah Arendt, and on theories of narration. She declares that men, like Plato, use philosophy to untie the soul from the body, but that women tie soul and body together again (Cavarero, p.29). For Cavarero the lack of attention paid to the fact that we are born from woman has given western philosophy a preoccupation with death rather than birth.  The dominant necrophilic paradigm juxtaposes life and death in a way that disavows culture’s dependence on women’s generative maternal force.  Cavarero plays the role of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of midwives, who brings to light that which was hidden from view: “In the famous shift from mythos to logos, from the culture of the Great Mother to the patriarchal symbolic order that has come down to us, this philosophy [of antiquity] accomplished an even more crucial transformation” (p.4) by disclosing “fresh traces of this shift and the memory of what has been lost to patriarchal domination” (p.5).

The academy has spurned the abundant “documented evidence of the existence of an original matriarchy”, claiming it “does not add up to the kind of proof accepted by every scholar” (p.5).  Cavarero investigates the “traces of the original act of erasure” contained in patriarchal records (p.7) by reading them against the grain, in contrast to Arendt who reads Plato with the grain of mainstream classical scholarship.  Cavarero “tears apart” the tapestry of patriarchy in order to lay open the seams and threads of the mother, so that all her secrets are in full view; she “unties the matted threads” of the fathers’ classical tapestry of the confined mother, and calls on Penelope to re-weave the threads into a new open philosophy of the female that draws attention to the connectedness (p.8) of bodies and souls in the world (p.29). Cavarero starts by exposing Zeus’ crime of matricide, and interprets that act as symbolic of patriarchy’s erasure of the Great Mother (p.7f).

Cavarero’s intention is to create a “revolution in perspective where the symbolic axis shifts from death to birth”, compelling “a global rethinking of the meaning of the world” (p.80) that reaches beyond the claim of female subjectivity.  By “focusing on the category of birth, it is possible to restore meaning both to maternal power and to the reality of those who are born” (p.83).  In birth, we always find a woman who generates; she is “sovereign subject” of the act of regeneration. The one who is born comes to embodied being in the world through the passage of birth, and, in due time, takes its place in the polis (p.83).  Thus Cavarero turns to natality to prompt a cultural transformation by creating a different narrative of female symbols and subjectivity.

Cavarero insists that cultural continuity depends on the maternal power to generate.  Continuity is assured only when the mother/daughter relationship is visible to human eyes.  Nature flourishes only when females give birth to daughters. When the maternal no longer has power to generate, we approach “the threat of nothingness” (p.61). She views war, murder, abuse and environmental exploitation as “depriving the living of the power to live” (p.105).

Like Arendt, Cavarero, views uniqueness, not as the identifier of a static persona, but as the unfolding richness of diversity that disrupts monoculture. Having come from Arendtian realism, Cavarero insists that stories do not give birth; material reality exists and continually bumps against us, generating life (p.127). As a feminist, she collapses Hannah Arendt’s distinction between private and public spheres and redefines political space, as a “small community” located in intimate, domestic spaces as well as in public spaces (Kingston, 2008, p.2). Significantly, Cavarero links agonistic politics to the patriarchal order and points to alternative organic models for enacting justice with a collective voice (p.9). In Cavarero’s “small community model” of political change, political action occurs in small communities.


amadiumeIfi Amadiume (b.1947 in Nigeria) is a poet and anthropologist. As an afrocentric scholar,, she illuminates the links between matriculture and cosmology.  Her fieldwork in Africa resulted in two ethnographic monographs relating to the Igbo – African Matriarchal Foundations (1987), and the award-winning Male Daughters Female Husbands (Zed Press, 1987). A book of theoretical essays, Reinventing Africa, appeared in 1998.

In Re-inventing Africa: Matriarchy, religion and culture,  Ifi Amadiume challenges Western scholars for their complicity in producing a version of African that is a projection of their own class-based patriarchal ideology.  She contrasts the historical experience of women in America and in Europe. European women struggle to gain power and voice within their formal political structures; African women struggle to survive after european colonialism disrupted the socio-economic and cultural systems in which african women had autonomy (p.111).  Amadiume’s thesis is that “the traditional power of African women had an economic and an ideological basis, which derived from the importance accorded motherhood” (p.112).  She posits that there is a “missing system of matriarchy in european studies of African societies”  – a blindness to matriculture that is “the consequence of gender prejudice and ethnocentrism, as a result of the masculinization of language, and the imposition of the structures of Greek and Hebrew mythologies on Africa” (p.29).  I conjecture that Derrida would concur with Amadiume’s assertion that the structure of language as well as racial bias contribute to Western scholars’ inability to perceive matricultural phenomena in African cosmology, culture, social structures and economics (Derrida, p.213-5).


HeiHeide Goettner Abendrothdi Goettner Abendroth

She founded the International Academy for Modern Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality (HAGIA) in 1986; it integrates inellectual, political, artistic, and spiritual phenomena in its work. Göttner-Abendroth defines Modern Matriarchal Studies as the “investigation and presentation of non-patriarchal societies”, and matriarchies as “non-hierarchical, horizontal societies of matrilineal kinship”, effectively defining matriarchy as “non-patriarchic matrilineal societies”.   (from Wiki) a detailed analysis of her work is in progress. 

Tina Passman

See Reference page for details on citations.