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Authors: Nancy Fraser

Fortunes of Feminism

BOOK: Fortunes of Feminism
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From State-Managed Capitalism to
Neoliberal Crisis

Nancy Fraser



Natasha Zaretsky

Kathleen Engst

Gina Engst

Three paths to a feminist future

Grateful recognition of institutional support and intellectual inspiration appears in the initial starred note of each chapter. Here I thank Tomer Zeigerman and Mine Yildirim for expert assistance in preparing the manuscript, and I acknowledge support from the New School for Social Research, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, the Einstein Foundation of the City of Berlin, and the Centre for Advanced Studies “Justitia Amplificata.”

I am grateful as well for permission to reprint the following chapters:

Chapter 1 was originally published in
New German Critique
35, 1985. An earlier version of Chapter 2 appeared as “Talking About Needs: Interpretive Contests as Political Conflicts in Welfare-State Societies,” in
99:2, 1989. The version reprinted here appeared in Nancy Fraser,
Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition
, New York: Routledge, 1997. Chapter 3 was originally published in
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society
19:2, 1994. An earlier version of Chapter 4 appeared in
Political Theory
22:4, 1994. The version reprinted here was subsequently published in Nancy Fraser,
Justice Interruptus
. An Earlier version of Chapter 5 appeared in
Boundary 2
17:2, 1990. The version reprinted here was subsequently published in Nancy Fraser
Justice Interruptus
. Chapter 6 first appeared in French translation in
Actuel Marx
30, 2001. Chapter 7 was originally published in
New Left Review
, I/228, 1998. Chapter 8 was originally published in
New Left Review
36, 2005. Chapter 9 was originally published in
New Left Review
56, 2009. Chapter 10 was originally published in French translation in
Revue de l'OFCE
114, 2010.



Title Page


Prologue to a Drama in Three Acts


1. What's Critical About Critical Theory?
The Case of Habermas and Gender

2. Struggle over Needs: Outline of a Socialist-Feminist
Critical Theory of Late-Capitalist Political Culture

3. A Genealogy of “Dependency”:
Tracing a Keyword of the US Welfare State
(coauthored with Linda Gordon)

4. After the Family Wage:
A Postindustrial Thought Experiment


5. Against Symbolicism:
The Uses and Abuses of Lacanianism for Feminist Politics

6. Feminist Politics in the Age of Recognition:
A Two-Dimensional Approach to Gender Justice

7. Heterosexism, Misrecognition, and Capitalism:
A Response to Judith Butler


8. Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World

9. Feminism, Capitalism, and the Cunning of History

10. Between Marketization and Social Protection:
  Resolving the Feminist Ambivalence



Prologue to a Drama in Three Acts

From today's vantage point, the history of second-wave feminism appears as a drama in three acts. Emerging from the ferment surrounding the New Left, the “movement for women's liberation” began life as an insurrectionary force, which challenged male domination in state-organized capitalist societies of the postwar era. In Act One, feminists joined with other currents of radicalism to explode a social-democratic imaginary that had occulted gender injustice and technicized politics. Insisting that “the personal is political,” this movement exposed capitalism's deep androcentrism and sought to transform society root and branch. Later, however, as utopian energies began to decline, second-wave feminism was drawn into the orbit of identity politics. In Act Two, its transformative impulses were channeled into a new political imaginary that foregrounded “difference.” Turning “from redistribution to recognition,” the movement shifted its attention to cultural politics, just as a rising neoliberalism declared war on social equality. More recently, however, as neoliberalism has entered its current crisis, the urge to reinvent feminist radicalism may be reviving. In an Act Three that is still unfolding, we
see a reinvigorated feminism join other emancipatory forces aiming to subject runaway markets to democratic control. In that case, the movement would retrieve its insurrectionary spirit, while deepening its signature insights: its structural critique of capitalism's androcentrism, its systemic analysis of male domination, and its gender-sensitive revisions of democracy and justice.

Historians will eventually explain how neoliberalizing forces succeeded, for a time at least, in defusing the more radical currents of second-wave feminism—and how (one hopes) a new insurrectionary upsurge managed to reanimate them. For critical theorists, however, there remains a prior task: to analyze alternative grammars of the feminist imaginary in order to assess their emancipatory potential. Here the goal is to ascertain which understandings of androcentrism and male domination, which interpretations of gender justice and sexual democracy, which conceptions of equality and difference are likely to be most fruitful for future engagements. Above all, which modes of feminist theorizing should be incorporated into the new political imaginaries now being invented by new generations for Act Three?

Though not written with this aim in mind, the essays collected here can nevertheless be read today as preliminary attempts at such a reckoning. Composed over the past twenty-five-plus years as interventions in theoretical debates, they document major shifts in the feminist imaginary since the 1970s. For this volume, I have grouped them in three parts, which correspond to the three acts of the drama I have just sketched. In Part I, I have included pieces that seek to marry a feminist sensibility to a New Left critique of the welfare state. Targeting not only the latter's androcentrism, but also its bureaucratic organization and near-exclusive focus on distribution, these essays situate second-wave feminism in a broader field of democratizing, anti-capitalist struggles. Reflecting the historical shift from mainstream social democracy to the new social movements, they defend the latter's expanded understanding of politics, even as they also criticize some influential ways of theorizing it. Part II charts subsequent alterations in the feminist imaginary. Noting the broader cultural shift from the politics of equality to the politics of identity, these chapters diagnose dilemmas facing feminist movements in a period of ascendant neoliberalism. Troubled by the relative neglect of political economy at the fin de siècle, they criticize the eclipse of “struggles for redistribution” by “struggles for recognition,” even as they also defend a non-identitarian version of the latter. Part III contemplates prospects for a revival of feminist radicalism in a time of neoliberal crisis. Advocating a “post-Westphalian” turn, the essays comprising this section situate struggles for women's emancipation in relation to two other sets of social forces: those bent on extending the sway of markets, on the one hand, and those seeking to “defend society” from them, on the other. Diagnosing a “dangerous liaison” between feminism and marketization, these essays urge feminists to break that unholy alliance and forge a principled new one, between “emancipation” and “social protection.”

In general, then, the concerns shaping the volume's organization are both systematic and historical. A record of one theorist's ongoing efforts to track the movement's trajectory, the book assesses feminism's current prospects and future possibilities. Let me elaborate.

When second-wave feminism first erupted on the world stage, the advanced capitalist states of Western Europe and North America were still enjoying the unprecedented wave of prosperity that followed World War II. Utilizing new tools of Keynesian economic steering, they had apparently learned to counteract business downturns and to guide national economic development so as to secure near full employment for men. Incorporating once unruly labor movements, the advanced capitalist countries had built more or less extensive welfare states and institutionalized national cross-class solidarity. To be sure, this historic class compromise rested on a series of gender and racial-ethnic exclusions, not to mention external neocolonial exploitation. But those potential fault lines tended to remain latent in a social-democratic imaginary that foregrounded class redistribution. The result was a prosperous North Atlantic belt of mass-consumption societies, which had apparently tamed social conflict.

In the 1960s, however, the relative calm of this “Golden Age of capitalism” was suddenly shattered.
In an extraordinary international explosion, radical youth took to the streets—at first to oppose the Vietnam War and racial segregation in the US. Soon they began to question core features of capitalist modernity that social democracy had heretofore naturalized: materialism, consumerism, and “the achievement ethic”; bureaucracy, corporate culture, and “social control”; sexual repression, sexism, and heteronormativity. Breaking through the normalized political routines of the previous era, new social actors formed new social movements, with second-wave feminism among the most visionary.

Along with their comrades in other movements, the feminists of this era recast the radical imaginary. Transgressing a political culture that had privileged actors who cast themselves as nationally bounded and politically tamed classes, they challenged the gender exclusions of social democracy. Problematizing welfare paternalism and the bourgeois family, they exposed the deep androcentrism of capitalist society. Politicizing “the personal,” they expanded the boundaries of contestation beyond socioeconomic distribution—to include housework, sexuality, and reproduction.

In fact, the initial wave of postwar feminism had an ambivalent relationship to social democracy. On the one hand, much of the early second wave rejected the latter's
and its tendency to marginalize class and social injustices other than “maldistribution.” On the other hand, many feminists presupposed key features of the socialist imaginary as a basis for more radical designs. Taking for granted the welfare state's solidaristic ethos and prosperity-securing steering capacities, they too were committed to taming markets and promoting equality. Acting from a critique that was at once radical and immanent, early second-wave feminists sought less to dismantle the welfare state than to transform it into a force that could help to overcome male domination.

By the 1980s, however, history seemed to have bypassed that political project. A decade of conservative rule in much of Western Europe and North America, capped by the fall of Communism in the East, miraculously breathed new life into free-market ideologies previously given up for dead. Rescued from the historical dustbin, “neoliberalism” authorized a sustained assault on the very idea of egalitarian redistribution. The effect, amplified by accelerating globalization, was to cast doubt on the legitimacy and viability of the use of public power to tame market forces. With social democracy on the defensive, efforts to broaden and deepen its promise naturally fell by the wayside. Feminist movements that had earlier taken the welfare state as their point of departure, seeking to extend its egalitarian ethos from class to gender, now found the ground cut out from under their feet. No longer able to assume a social-democratic baseline for radicalization, they gravitated to newer grammars of political claims-making, more attuned to the “post-socialist” zeitgeist.

Enter the politics of recognition. If the initial thrust of postwar feminism was to “engender” the socialist imaginary, the later tendency was to redefine gender justice as a project aimed at “recognizing difference.” “Recognition,” accordingly, became the chief grammar of feminist claims-making at the fin de siècle. A venerable category of Hegelian philosophy, resuscitated by political theorists, this notion captured the distinctive character of “post-socialist” struggles, which often took the form of identity politics, aimed more at valorizing cultural difference than at promoting economic equality. Whether the question was care work, sexual violence, or gender disparities in political representation, feminists increasingly resorted to the grammar of recognition to press their claims. Unable to transform the deep gender structures of the capitalist economy, they preferred to target harms rooted in androcentric patterns of cultural value or status hierarchies. The result was a major shift in the feminist imaginary: whereas the previous generation had sought to remake political economy, this one focused more on transforming culture.

The results were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the new feminist struggles for recognition continued the earlier project of expanding the political agenda beyond the confines of class redistribution; in principle they served to broaden, and to radicalize, the concept of justice. On the other hand, however, the figure of the struggle for recognition so thoroughly captured the feminist imagination that it served more to displace than to deepen the socialist imaginary. The effect was to subordinate social struggles to cultural struggles, the politics of redistribution to the politics of recognition. That was not, to be sure, the original intention. It was assumed, rather, by proponents of the cultural turn that a feminist politics of identity and difference would synergize with struggles for gender equality. But that assumption fell prey to the larger zeitgeist. In the fin de siècle context, the turn to recognition dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social egalitarianism. The result was a tragic historical irony. Instead of arriving at a broader, richer paradigm that could encompass both redistribution and recognition, feminists effectively traded one truncated paradigm for another—a truncated economism for a truncated culturalism.

Today, however, perspectives centered on recognition alone lack all credibility. In the context of escalating capitalist crisis, the critique of political economy is regaining its central place in theory and practice. No serious social movement, least of all feminism, can ignore the evisceration of democracy and the assault on social reproduction now being waged by finance capital. Under these conditions, a feminist theory worth its salt must revive the “economic” concerns of Act One—without, however, neglecting the “cultural” insights of Act Two. But that is not all. It must integrate these not only with one another but also with a new set of “political” concerns made salient by globalization: How might emancipatory struggles serve to secure democratic legitimacy and to expand and equalize political influence in a time when the powers that govern our lives increasingly overrun the borders of territorial states? How might feminist movements foster equal participation transnationally, across entrenched power asymmetries and divergent worldviews? Struggling simultaneously on three fronts—call them redistribution, recognition, and representation—the feminism of Act Three must join with other anti-capitalist forces, even while exposing their continued failure to absorb the insights of decades of feminist activism.

Today's feminism must, moreover, be sensitive to the historical context in which we operate. Situating ourselves vis-à-vis the broader constellation of political forces, we need to keep our distance both from market-besotted neoliberals and from those who seek to “defend society” (replete with hierarchy and exclusion) from the market. Charting a third path between that Scylla and Charybdis, a feminism worthy of Act Three must join other emancipatory movements in integrating our fundamental interest in non-domination with protectionists' legitimate concerns for social security, without neglecting the importance of negative liberty, which is usually associated with liberalism.

Such, at least, is the reading of recent history that emerges from the essays collected here. The chapters comprising Part I document the shift from postwar social democracy to early second-wave feminism, seen as a current of New Left radicalism. Exuding the heady spirit of the 1960s and ‘70s, these essays reflect the successes of the new social movements in breaking through the confines of welfare-state politics as usual. Expanding the political meant exposing neglected axes of domination other than class—above all, but not only, gender. Equally important, it meant exposing illegitimate power beyond the usual precincts of the state and economy—in sexuality and subjectivity, in domesticity and social services, in academia and commodified leisure, in the social practices of everyday life.

No one better captured these “post-Marxian” impulses than Jürgen Habermas, the subject of Chapter 1. A radical critic of postwar social democracy, Habermas sought to scrutinize aspects of the Keynesian welfare state that escaped standard liberal analyses. Eschewing the “labor monism” of his Frankfurt School predecessors, while seeking to continue the critique of reification by other means, he proposed a “communications-theoretic” reconstruction of Critical Theory. The upshot was a new diagnosis of late-capitalist ills: the “internal colonization of the lifeworld by systems.” Endemic to postwar social democracy, colonization occurred when “systems rationality” was illegitimately extended beyond its proper purview (the market economy and state administration) to the “core domains of the lifeworld” (the family and political public sphere). In that case, as administrative coordination replaced communicative interaction in domains that required the latter, the welfare state spawned “social pathologies.” Equally important, this development sparked new forms of social conflict, centered less on distribution than on the “grammar of forms of life.”
Resonating with New Left antipathy to bureaucratic paternalism, Habermas's diagnosis validated the “post-materialist” concerns of the new social movements. Exceeding liberal criticisms of distributive injustice, it promised to broaden our sense of what could be subject to political challenge—and emancipatory change.

BOOK: Fortunes of Feminism
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