The Symbolic Order of the Mother

By Luisa Muraro
Translated by Francesca Novello
Edited by Timothy S. Murphy
Introduction by Timothy S. Murphy
Foreword by Alison Stone

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Philosophy, Gender Studies, Political Theory
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Italian Philosophy
Paperback : 9781438467641, 162 pages, January 2019
Hardcover : 9781438467634, 162 pages, January 2018

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Alison Stone

Translator’s Note
Francesca Novello

Introduction: From Separation to Creative Difference
Timothy S. Murphy

Author’s Note to the English-Language Edition

1. The Difficulty of Beginning

2. Knowing How to Love the Mother as a Sense of Being

3. The Word, a Gift from the Mother

4. Or the One in Her Place

5. The Circle of Flesh

6. The Abyssal Distance


Argues that affirming the irreducible differences between men and women can lead to more transformative politics than the struggle for abstract equality between the sexes.


In The Symbolic Order of the Mother Luisa Muraro identifies the bond between mother and child as ontologically fundamental to the development of culture and politics, and therefore as key to achieving truly emancipatory political change. Both corporeal development and language acquisition, which are the sources of all thinking, begin in this relationship. However, Western civilization has been defined by men, and Muraro recalls the admiration and envy she felt for the great philosophers as she strove to become one herself, as well as the desire for independence that opposed her to her mother. This conflict between philosophy and culture on the one hand and the relationship with the mother on the other constitutes the root of patriarchy's symbolic disorder, which blocks women's (and men's) access to genuine freedom. Muraro appeals to the feminist practice of gratitude to the mother and the recognition of her authority as a model of unconditional nurture and support that must be restored. This, she argues, is the symbolic order of the mother that must overcome the disorder of patriarchy. The mediating power of the mother tongue constitutes a symbolic order that comes before all others, for both women and men.

Luisa Muraro is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Verona, Italy. Francesca Novello is an instructor at the University of Oklahoma. Timothy S. Murphy is Houston-Truax-Wentz Professor and Regents Professor of English at Oklahoma State University.


"The Symbolic Order of the Mother by the Italian philosopher and feminist Luisa Muraro is the first work translated into English (2018) from a brilliant and original body of works." — KULT_online