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Over the last year or so, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the women’s movement in North and East Syria. For a lot of that time I’ve been working, living, and sharing as a part of the Jineoloji Academy. When I first arrived, I honestly had only the vaguest grasp of what that meant. I came as a revolutionary, an internationalist, excited to absorb and connect with everything I could from the Rojava Revolution and the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement. In the time that I’ve been here I’ve come to understand the power of jineoloji for revolution – a real, long lasting revolution of our collective minds and hearts, from the smallest moments to the biggest battles.
Jineoloji was first proposed by Abdullah Ocalan in his 2008 Prison Writings “Sociology of Freedom”. Since then, the Kurdish Women’s Movement has picked up the idea and run with it, making huge strides in just a few years. The idea is at the moment science, including the social sciences, are mostly working in the service of oppression, not of knowledge and humanity. There needs to be an intervention, that recentres society, morals and values in the social sciences, and makes the social sciences themselves the basis that all others work from and for. As humans, the most social creatures, all our knowledge of the world stems from our social nature. This doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say there is no real truth, but it means to really be true, our truth needs to acknowledge that.
To do this, truth and science need to work for society and life. For that, we need a science based around women. One one hand, the history and meaning of women and the story of patriarchal oppression and anti-patriarchal struggle. Also all forms of women’s wisdom, and that which patriarchy has suppressed. Increasing numbers of historians, activisists, revolutionaries and theorists are joining in naming patriarchy as the original oppression that others stem from. Matriarchal societies in contrast were/are based on egalitarian structures and forms of justice and leadership. Therefore looking at women (biologically, socially, as a historical reality) and women’s knowledge isn’t to position women above men, or other genders, but to connect us with a society not rife with hierarchy and oppression. Furthermore, the strong connection, enshrined even in the Kurdish language, between women and life makes jineoloji a proposal for a science of life as well.
So jineoloji isn’t a movement in itself, or an ideology. It’s a science. Not exactly in the way that we might understand science, and that’s kind of the point. It’s a new (old) way to understand and look at the world, a new way to give meaning. A challenge to positivism and rationalism.
Many internationalist women in North and East Syria are connected to the Jineoloji Acadamy, via the Andrea Wolf Institute. We produce works in the frame of jineoloji, educate ourselves and each other, and learn from and with women here. We are changed by the work as much as we contribute to it: there is no neutral point of observation in jineoloji. It’s also affected how we live and love and share. You don’t leave it in an academy and just go home at the end of the day. And this is again part of the point. Jineoloji does not reject evidence and experiment based knowledge, but it does reject the idea that we can stand apart from the world and observe, record, and define it without affecting it and being affected. This is the flaw and danger of positivism.
No form of knowledge is outside of the scope of jineoloji, if its considered from a holistic, dialectical perspective. When you start to try and wrap your head around it, at first it can feel eclectic or like it’s trying to be too broad. But I think that’s one of the things that has drawn me and so many others to jineoloji and kept us here: it refuses to accept that we can compartmentalise the world, cut knowledge into little specialised boxes, cut knowledge from feeling, feeling from being, being from other beings. So many of us have always felt a gut resistance to this that we couldn’t define. When we talk with the people we love about ideas, when we get excited about concepts, it’s rarely because they are being narrowed down, having no implications for other parts of life. It’s usually because they’re making a connection. Nothing exists in isolation. The world is holistic, including systems of oppression and exploitation. One of the tricks they play on us, calling it “ scientific knowledge” is to insist we compartmentalise everything and never take a step back, look at the whole picture. Because whenever we do, we go “Hang on a second..!” and usually start to rebel. So, important, fascinating and powerful as evidence based scientific discoveries can be, jineoloji insists that science has to acknowledge that connection and operate on values not just facts. Otherwise, it doesn’t work for us, it works against us.
Right now, with the Corona crisis, there’s an understandable swing towards positivism. Now is not the time for ideological arguing, we say. The pandemic is just an illness, and it’s dangerous, and we need medicine. And of course we should use whatever tools we have at our disposal to protect our communities. But the pandemic hasn’t changed anything that was wrong beforehand. Whatever tools we need right now doesn’t mean we have to buy wholesale into a positivist mindset forever. And whichever explanation you pick for the virus, from random chance to highly politicised, how its played out is connected to the system we live under. Positivism has been getting stronger as we’ve been steadily destroying the planet and turning on each other more and more. If we think more positivism is ultimately going to save us, at some point we’re just trying to put out a fire with petrol.
Jineoloji means a radical shift in our mental landscape. Without that, we are not going to reshape our realities. Many brave and inspiring people gave their all to create socialism without really challenging positivism or rationalism, and tragically, it did not work. We need to learn from that history, dig deeper, open wider. Jineoloji has emerged from the Kurdish Women’s Movement, a movement as familiar as any with every kind of concrete physical resistance. Over years, this movement has learnt that physical struggle is indespensible, but it is not enough alone. Capitalism, the state and patriarchy live inside and in between us all. We need a systematic way to make a revolution and defend ourselves there too. Jineoloji is a vital part of this and practised right it will increase our power for physical resistance as well.
Jineoloji also means looking deeply at our histories, recovering untold stories, making visible that which the system needs to make invisible; whether thats knowledge, memory, labour, resistance, our bodies themselves, suppressed and co-opted by oppression and capital. It means listening to people we don’t listen to enough (mothers and grandmothers, just for example).
I believe that many struggles worldwide, certainly those I have experience of, can gain a huge amount from this perspective, and also that any liberation struggle has something to contribute to jineoloji. Jineoloji takes existing revolutionary struggles, including feminism, as a basis. I came, as many internationalists in Rojava did, from a background of organising based in feminism and anarchism amoung other things. Jineoloji is finding a way to take a new step forward on this path, rather than a contradiction of those values. It also has the benefit of being a positive proposal, of creating, fighting for not just rejecting and fighting against.
Jineoloji is producing a body of work, in the academies and elsewhere, and has worldview that is always connected to anti-patriarchal struggle and resistance. It understands women as a biological reality, but also a social one, and also a lived historical reality. This and other points are core principles which are important. However, jineoloji is not tied to one context and can be practised by anyone anywhere. In fact, it must be. Different colours and textures of women and anti-patriarchal struggle, different realities, histories, and meanings, are what give it depth and strength. Just like knowledge itself, jineoloji is not set in stone, despite not accepting liberalism’s soulless “no such thing as truth” relativism. It is a field for debate and discussion, that can unite women and other genders across the world, just as it’s already the meeting point for so many with the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement.
Jineoloji website for more on jineoloji, and works, research and videos from North and East Syria: jineoloji.org/en/
More on the Andrea Wolf Institute and Jineoloji education for internationalists: jineoloji.org/en/2020/05/04/brochure-revolutionary-education-at-the-andrea-wolfe-institute/