Authors: Nancy Fraser
Chapter 7 defends this approach against the objections of Judith Butler. In her 1997 essay “Merely Cultural,” Butler sought to defend “the cultural Left” against criticisms by me and by unnamed persons she called “neoconservative Marxists.”
Insisting that heteronormativity is just as fundamental to capitalism as class exploitation, she rejected theorizations that treat sexuality as superstructural. From there, Butler might have gone on to endorse a model that construes “distribution” and “recognition” as two co-fundamental dimensions of capitalist society, corresponding respectively to class and status, and that analyzes heterosexism as a deep-seated form of misrecognition or status subordination. Instead, however, she rejected the very distinction between cultural and economic injustices as a tactic aimed at trivializing heterosexism. Claiming to deconstruct my distinction between maldistribution and misrecognition, she went on to argue that heterosexism is so essential to capitalism that LGBT struggles threaten the latter's existence.
“Heterosexism, Misrecognition, and Capitalism” (1997) rebuts Butler's arguments. Defending my quasi-Weberian dualism of status and class, I maintain that heterosexism can be every bit as serious and material as other harms and yet still be an injustice of misrecognition, grounded in the status order of society as opposed to the political economy. Tracing the economic/cultural differentiation to the rise of capitalism, I contend that, far from deconstructing that distinction, feminist theorists should rather historicize it. Mapping recent shifts in the institutionalization of economy and culture, I conclude that late-capitalist forms of sexual regulation are only indirectly tied to mechanisms for the accumulation of surplus value. Hence, struggles against heterosexist misrecognition do not automatically threaten capitalism, but must be linked to other (anti-capitalist) struggles. The resulting approach discloses gaps in the current order that open space for emancipatory practice. Unlike Butler's framework, mine makes visible the non-isomorphisms of status and class, the multiple contradictory interpellations of social subjects, and the many complex moral imperatives that motivate struggles for social justice in the present era.
In general, then, Part II assesses the state of the feminist imagination in a time of rising neoliberalism. Analyzing the shift from early second-wave feminism, which sought to engender the socialist imaginary, to identity politics, which jettisoned the latter in favor of a politics centered on recognition, these essays provide a sober accounting of the losses and gains. Leery of identity politics in a period of neoliberal hegemony, they aim to revive the project of egalitarian gender redistribution in combination with a de-reified politics of recognition. The goal throughout is to develop new conceptual and practical strategies for combating gender injustices of economy and culture simultaneously. Only a perspective that encompasses both of those dimensions of gender in-justice can adequately inform feminist theorizing in capitalist society.
Part III shifts the scene to the present. Today, when neoliberalism is everywhere in crisis, reductive culturalism is widely discredited, and feminist interest in political economy is fast reviving. What is needed now, accordingly, is a gender-sensitive framework that can grasp the fundamental character of the crisisâas well as the prospects for an emancipatory resolution. One imperative is to conceptualize the multilayered nature of the current crisis, which encompasses simultaneous destabilizations of finance, ecology, and social reproduction. Another is to map the grammar of the social struggles that are responding to the crisis and reshaping the political terrain on which feminists operate. Crucial to both enterprises is the new salience of transnationalizing forces, which are problematizing “the Westphalian frame”: that is, the previously unquestioned idea that the bounded territorial state is the appropriate unit for reflecting on, and struggling for, justice. As that doxa recedes in the face of intensified transnational power, feminist struggles are transnationalizing too. Thus, many of the assumptions that undergirded earlier feminist projects are being called into questionârevealed to be indefensible expressions of what Ulrich Beck calls “methodological nationalism.”
The chapters comprising Part III aim to develop models of feminist theorizing that can clarify this situation. “Reframing Justice in a Global World” (2005) observes that so-called “globalization” is changing the grammar of political claims-making. Contests that used to focus chiefly on the question of
is owed as a matter of justice to members of political communities now turn quickly into disputes about
should count as a member and
is the relevant community. Not only the substance of justice but also the
is in dispute. The result is a major challenge to received understandings, which fail to ponder
who should count
in matters of justice. To meet the challenge, I argue, the theory of justice must become three-dimensional, incorporating the political dimension of
alongside the economic dimension of distribution and the cultural dimension of recognition.
“Reframing Justice in a Global World” constitutes a major revision of the model developed in the previous chapters. Adapting Weber's triad of class, status, and party, it identifies not two but three analytically distinct kinds of obstacles to parity of participation in capitalist societies. Whereas distribution foregrounds impediments rooted in political economy, and recognition discloses obstacles grounded in the status order, representation conceptualizes barriers to participatory parity that are entrenched in the political constitution of society. At issue here are the procedures for staging and resolving conflicts over injustice: How are claims for redistribution and recognition to be adjudicated? And who belongs to the circle of those who are entitled to raise them?
Directed at clarifying struggles over globalization, this third, “political” dimension of justice operates on two different levels. On the one hand, I theorize “ordinary-political injustices,” which arise internally,
a bounded political community, when skewed decision rules entrench disparities of political voice among fellow citizens. Feminist struggles for gender quotas on electoral lists are a response to this sort of ordinary-political misrepresentation. But that's not all. Equally important, if less familiar, are “meta-political injustices,” which arise when the division of political space
bounded polities miscasts what are actually transnational injustices as national matters. In this case, affected non-citizens are wrongly excluded from considerationâas, for example, when the claims of the global poor are shunted into the domestic political arenas of weak or failed states and diverted from the offshore causes of their dispossession. Naming this second, meta-political injustice “misframing,” I argue for a post-Westphalian theory of democratic justice which problematizes unjust frames. The result is a major revision of my theory, aimed at addressing transborder inequities in a globalizing world.
The following chapter applies this revised, three-dimensional framework to the historical trajectory of second-wave feminism. Effectively recapitulating the overall argument of this book, “Feminism, Capitalism, and the Cunning of History” (2009) situates the movement's unfolding in relation to three different moments in the history of capitalism. First, I locate the movement's beginnings in the context of “state-organized capitalism.” Here I chart the emergence of second-wave feminism from out of the anti-imperialist New Left as a radical challenge to the pervasive androcentrism of state-led capitalist societies in the postwar era. And I identify the movement's fundamental emancipatory promise with its expanded sense of injustice and its structural critique of capitalist society. Second, I consider the process of feminism's evolution in the dramatically changed social context of rising neoliberalism. I explore not only the movement's extraordinary successes but also the disturbing convergence of some of its ideals with the demands of an emerging new form of capitalismâpost-fordist, “disorganized,” transnational. And I suggest that second-wave feminism has unwittingly supplied a key ingredient of what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello call “the new spirit of capitalism.”
Finally, I contemplate prospects for reorienting feminism in the present context of capitalist crisis, which could mark the beginnings of a shift to a new, post-neoliberal form of social organization. I examine the prospects for reactivating feminism's emancipatory promise in a world that has been rocked by financial crisis and the surrounding political fallout.
“Feminism, Capitalism, and the Cunning of History” constitutes a provocation of sorts. Contending that feminism has entered a dangerous liaison with neoliberalism, this chapter identifies four major historical ironies. First, the feminist critique of social-democratic economism, undeniably emancipatory in the era of state-organized capitalism, has assumed a more sinister valence in the subsequent period, as it dovetailed with neoliberalism's interest in diverting political-economic struggles into culturalist channels. Second, the feminist critique of the “family wage,” once the centerpiece of a radical analysis of capitalism's androcentrism, increasingly serves today to legitimate a new mode of capital accumulation, heavily dependent on women's waged labor, as idealized in the “two-earner family.” Third, the feminist critique of welfare-state paternalism has converged unwittingly with neoliberalism's critique of the nanny state, and with its increasingly cynical embrace of micro-credit and NGOs. Finally, efforts to expand the scope of gender justice beyond the nation-state are increasingly resignified to cohere with neoliberalism's global governance needs, as “femocrats” have entered the policy apparatuses of the United Nations, the European Union, and the “international community.” In every case, an idea that served emancipatory ends in one context became ambiguous, if not worse, in another.
Where does this argument leave feminism today? In the final chapter, I propose a framework aimed at disrupting our dangerous liaison with neoliberalism and liberating our radical energies. Revisiting a landmark study of capitalist crisis, “Between Marketization and Social Protection” (2010) offers a feminist reading of Karl Polanyi's 1944 classic
The Great Transformation
Eschewing economism, this book analyzed a previous crisis of capitalism as a crisis of social reproduction, as earlier efforts to create a “free market society” undermined the shared understandings and solidary relations that underpin social life. In Polanyi's view, such efforts proved so destructive of livelihoods, communities, and habitats as to trigger a century-long struggle between free-marketeers and proponents of “social protection,” who sought to defend “society” from the ravages of the market. The end result of this struggle, which he called a “double movement,” was fascism and World War II.
Without question, Polanyi's diagnosis is relevant today. Our crisis, too, can be fruitfully analyzed as a “great transformation” in which a new round of efforts to free markets from political regulation is threatening social reproduction and sparking a new wave of protectionist protest. Nevertheless, I argue here, Polanyi's framework harbors a major blindspot. Focused single-mindedly on harms emanating from marketization, his account overlooks harms originating elsewhere, in the surrounding “society.” As a result, it neglects the fact that social protections are often vehicles of domination, aimed at entrenching hierarchies and at excluding “outsiders.” Preoccupied overwhelmingly with struggles over marketization, Polanyi occults struggles over injustices rooted in “society” and encoded in social protections.
“Between Marketization and Social Protection” aims to correct this blindspot. Seeking to develop a broader critique, I propose to transform Polanyi's double movement into a
. The key move here is to introduce a third pole of social struggle, which I call “emancipation.” Crosscutting his central conflict between marketization and social protection, emancipation aims to overcome forms of domination rooted in “society,” as well as those based in “economy.” Opposing oppressive protections without thereby becoming free-marketeers, emancipation's ranks have included feminists as well as the billions of peopleâpeasants, serfs, and slaves; racialized, colonized, and indigenous peoplesâfor whom access to a wage promised liberation from traditional authority. By thematizing emancipation as colliding with marketization and social protection, the triple movement clarifies the political terrain on which feminism operates today. On the one hand (contra Polanyi), this figure discloses the ambivalence of social protection, which often entrenches domination even while counteracting the disintegrative effects of marketization. On the other hand, however, (contra mainstream liberal feminism), the triple movement reveals the ambivalence of emancipation, which may dissolve the solidary ethical basis of social protection and can thereby foster marketization even as it dismantles domination. Probing these ambivalences, I conclude that feminists should end our dangerous liaison with marketization and forge a principled new alliance with social protection. In so doing, we could reactivate and extend the insurrectionary, anti-capitalist spirit of the second wave.
A compilation of essays written over a period of more than twenty-five years, this volume's orientation is at once retrospective and prospective. Charting shifts in the feminist imaginary since the 1970s, it offers an interpretation of the recent history of feminist thought. At the same time, however, it looks forward, to the feminism of the future now being invented by new generations of feminist activists. Schooled in digital media and comfortable in transnational space, yet formed in the crucible of capitalist crisis, this generation promises to reinvent the feminist imagination yet again. Emerging from the long slog through identity politics, the young feminists of this generation seem poised to conjure up a new synthesis of radical democracy and social justice. Combining redistribution, recognition, and representation, they are seeking to transform a world that no longer resembles the Westphalian international system of sovereign states. Faced with the gravest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, they have every incentive to devise new, systematic critiques that combine the enduring insights of socialist-feminism with those of newer paradigms, such as postcolonialism and ecology. Whatever helpful lessons they can glean from this volume will pale in comparison with those its author expects to learn from them.