Anarchist Women and the Politics of Walking

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterSymposium: The 2016 Maxwell Lecture
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 708 –719
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917732417
Symposium: The 2016 Maxwell Lecture
. . . mankind stumbles on its task of understanding the world.
—Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason, p. 90
It’s a long walk, that’s all.
—Alexandra David-Néel, in Foster, Forbidden Journey,
p. 201
In the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, two
remarkable women appeared briefly in the European
anarchist movement, made distinctive contributions, and
then seemingly disappeared from anarchism’s political
ranks. Alexandra David-Néel (1868–1969) was a French
anarchist, Buddhist, prolific writer and translator, and
world-famous outdoorswoman; Lily Gair Wilkinson (?–
1957) was a Scottish anarchist and painter, enthusiastic
hiker, and author of one splendid essay. While Alexandra
was an individualist anarchist, and Lily embraced com-
munist anarchism, both saw anarchism as a philosophy
and political practice that rejects centralized, hierarchical
authority, including states, churches, corporations, patri-
archies, and empires, and works to create egalitarian rela-
tions in which individuals cultivate their freedom while
organizing themselves into voluntary, self-governing
Lily and Alexandra are the starting point of my reflec-
tions, the first point in an interactive triangle of ideas.
They are two of at least one thousand women (so far iden-
tified) who were active in the international anarchist
movement from the Paris Commune (1871) to the Spanish
Revolution (1939).1 A few, notably Emma Goldman, are
well known today, but most have faded into obscurity,
occluding both women’s vigorous presence in anarchism
and anarchism’s notable contributions to feminism. My
goal is to reverse that process: first, to bring women’s
lively presence back into our historical accounts of the
anarchist movement, to invite them to surprise us with
their insights and adventures; second, to bring anarchism
more fully into feminism, including anarchist feminists’
radical critiques of capital, religion, patriarchy, and the
state and their insistence on living a transformative way
of life.
To rethink both anarchism and feminism, I dig through
old publications, correspondence, and life histories,
rounding up these occasionally bizarre, always interest-
ing women, one stubborn figure at a time. I am configur-
ing these radical women as narrative personae, engaging
them in the same sense that feminist philosopher Maria
Tamboukou (2016, 9) following Deleuze and Guattari
connects with past radical women “whose actions leave
behind them storylines to be followed in the pursuit of
meaning and understanding.” Narrative personae are
made up of political and personal stories that express
ideas and constitute events so that we can interact with
732417PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917732417Political Research QuarterlyFerguson
1University of Hawai’i, Honolulu, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kathy E. Ferguson, Departments of Political Science and Women’s
Studies, University of Hawai’i, 640 Saunders Hall, 2424 Maile Way,
Honolulu, HI 96813, USA.
Anarchist Women and the Politics
of Walking
Kathy E. Ferguson1
Two anarchist women from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, Alexandra David-Néel and Lily Gair
Wilkinson, combined their politics with radical engagement in walking. In both the literal sense, moving their bodies
along the earth, and the figurative sense of calling on peripatetic tropes to express their ideas, they found walking
to be a constitutive element of freedom. This paper brings the ideas of Whitehead and other process philosophers
into conversation with material and semiotic dimensions of walking and with anarchist politics. In the political lives of
Wilkinson and David-Néel, I see struggles to live anarchist lives, lives into which one could walk.
anarchism, feminism, walking, process philosophy, Whitehead

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