Contemporary Political Theory, 2002, 1, (261–283) r 2002 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1470-8914/02 $15.00 www.

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Beyond the Public/Private Dichotomy: Relational Space and Sexual Inequalities
Chris Armstrong and Judith Squires
Department of Politics, University of Bristol, 10 Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TU, UK. E-mail: c.armstrong@bris.ac.uk, judith.squires@bris.ac.uk

The public/private dichotomy has long been the object of considerable attention for feminists. We argue that, by focusing their attention on a divide which has declined in importance, feminists may fail to keep up with the current means by which sexual inequalities are perpetuated. Furthermore, by concentrating on this divide feminists risk reproducing such dichotomous thinking in their own work, discursively perpetuating that which they had initially hoped to displace. We begin by surveying feminist critiques of the public/private dichotomy, consider recent moves to go beyond critique, yet suggest that the dichotomy continues to be a framing concern within feminist work. We then survey the way in which space has been understood within geography, and consider the implications of adopting a relational conception of space for analysis of public and private in political theory. We offer a broader framework for examining the ways in which sexual inequalities are reproduced in contemporary society. We therefore open up the possibility that over time inequalities may be mediated to a greater or lesser degree by spatial divisions. This places a further pressure on the assumption that the public/private divide, or some variation thereof, must be at the heart of feminist theorizing. Contemporary Political Theory (2002) 1, 261–283. doi:10.1057/palgrave.cpt.9300059 Keywords: feminism; geography; inequality; private; public; space

Introduction
This article will examine how central a concern the public/private divide should be for feminist analysis.1 Although it has long been the object of considerable attention for feminists, we will make two arguments that suggest the need for a different perspective. First, we will argue that even insofar as spatial divisions have been an important conduit of sexual inequality, by focusing their attention more or less wholly on a public/private divide which has declined in importance, feminist analysis may fail to keep up with the current means by which sexual inequalities are perpetuated. Furthermore, by concentrating on the public/private divide to such a great extent, feminists risk reproducing such dichotomous thinking in their own work, discursively perpetuating that which they had initially hoped to displace. We therefore survey recent developments

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within feminist geography regarding the concept of space and argue that the notion of relational space, which they advocate, should be adopted more explicitly by political theorists. If this relational notion of space were embraced, the status of the public/private distinction within feminist political analysis would be transformed. Secondly, we seek to put matters even further into perspective by arguing that the view of spatial divisions as the primary channel for the production of sexual inequality itself is not sufficiently nuanced, and has probably never done justice to the more complex reality. We present a framework of analysis which suggests that spatial divisions per se merely provide one avenue for the reproduction of sexual inequalities. There is no good reason why spatial divisions even conceived in the broadest sense should occupy an unexamined and privileged position within feminist theory. We will begin by surveying feminist critiques of the public/private dichotomy. We will then consider recent feminist moves to go beyond critique, which entail attempts to degender the dichotomy, to reconceive the public and the private spheres, and to deconstruct the dichotomy itself. We will note, however, that in reality the dichotomy is at best displaced, and continues to be a framing concern within feminist work. It is widely used as an explanatory framework for sexual inequality, challenging patriarchal conceptualizations of the dichotomy. But it is also increasingly used as a normative framework in feminist theory, with reconceptualized versions of the divide offered as a central element in the project of restructuring theory and practice in more gender-neutral ways. The assumption seems to be that, since the public/private divide exerts a central and powerful influence over sexual politics, a key feminist goal must be to suggest versions of the divide that are less inegalitarian in their effects. However, if we question the first assumption, the continued fascination with rearticulations of the divide immediately appears more tenuous. We survey the way in which space has been understood within geography, and consider the implications of adopting a relational conception of space for analysis of public and private in political theory. The effect, we would suggest, is to foreground the possibility that feminists themselves have been complicit in reproducing and reiterating a crude set of spatial divisions which do not do justice to the intricacies of relations of sexual inequality. We will therefore suggest a broader and more open framework for examining the ways in which sexual inequalities are reproduced in contemporary society. Drawing on recent deconstructive work on sex and gender, we suggest that sexual inequalities are reproduced when certain logics are interred in our conceptions of sexual difference itself. These logics seek to relate the ‘facts’ of sexual difference to conclusions for social practice. In particular, they seek to prescribe certain roles or places for men and women to inhabit. But what our analysis highlights is that the routes by which sexual inequalities are sustained are flexible, and subject to continual change. Thus (although
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establishing such a position is not our object here), we open up at least the analytical possibility that over time inequalities may be mediated to a greater or lesser degree by spatial divisions. This places a further F and likely unbearable F pressure on the assumption that the public/private divide, or some variation thereof, must be at the heart of feminist theorizing.

Feminist Critiques of the Public/Private Distinction
It is worth reiterating at the outset that there is no single public/private distinction. Political theorists tend to acknowledge two broad traditions for distinguishing between the public and the private F the classical and the liberal.2 It is fair to say, though, that the feminist literature on the public/ private distinction has focused primarily on critiquing the liberal formulation of the public/private distinction. These critiques fall into three broad strands: the first of which criticizes the premises of liberalism as being androcentric, the second criticizes the extent to which elements of the classical tradition are imported into the liberal model of social contract theory and the third criticizes the actual patriarchal practices of ‘liberal’ regimes. Whilst the first of these feminist critiques directly rejects the liberal conception of the public/private distinction, the second suggests that liberalism has been compromised in its theoretical formulation by the importation of classical or patriarchal norms, and the third suggests that, although the public/private distinction proposed by liberalism may in theory be gender-neutral, liberal regimes have in practice worked against the interests of women. In other words, feminists offer three different sorts of critiques of the public/private dichotomy. All three are aimed primarily at the way in which the distinction is conceived within liberal discourses. They each aim to highlight the ways in which the distinctions that are commonly drawn between the public and private have been used, and continue to be used, to sustain women’s oppression. In this regard they have been relatively successful. The first critique, then, focuses on the question of subjectivity, claiming the liberal discourse of individual autonomy to be prescriptive rather than descriptive; structuring, rather than simply reflecting, social relations. The liberal theory of the self, as a rational individual engaged in abstract moral reasoning with strong ego boundaries, is not a neutral description of human nature; rather it is part of a discourse that constructs individuals in this image. Recognition of this fact leads to two further insights. The first is that very particular social structures and institutions are needed to shape individuals into this mould; the second is that this conception of subjectivity may not apply equally to everyone. The discourse that privileges autonomous reasoning as distinctly human has generally assumed women to be incapable of such
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rationality, and so not properly deserving of the rights granted to individuals by the liberal state. These two issues are linked in women’s status as primary carers. Neither the process of caring and nurturing nor the status of carers and nurturers are theorized in liberal theory. The concern of feminist theorists is that, as a result of this omission, not only have women been denied the rights and privileges granted to the ‘rational individuals’ of liberal societies, but also that a crucial aspect of life, associated with the caring performed by women, has been glossed over. This insight has implications not only for the role of caring as a practice, but also for its role as a perspective. The significance of caring, as both practice and perspective has generated a large feminist literature on the ‘ethic of care’ (Elshtain, 1981; Gilligan, 1982; Ruddick, 1989; Tronto, 1993; Bubeck, 1995). This critique of the public/private distinction is complemented by a second, which focuses on contract. Here the object of concern is not the rational liberal individual, but liberalism’s origins in social contract theory. This contractbased critique places the subjectivity-based critique in a historical context. The focus is the particular social and political forces that created the situation in which women were confined to a private, domestic, care-taking role whilst men were presumed to be able to move freely between the private (domestic) and the public (civil society and state) spheres. The most influential theorist here is Carole Pateman. She claims that the social contract that generates liberal politics and establishes the political freedom of individuals simultaneously entails the sexual subordination of women in marriage (Pateman and Brennan, 1979; Pateman, 1983, 1988). The social contract that is required to create both civil society and the state requires a sexual contract to accommodate the patriarchalism that predates liberalism. The liberal social contact therefore represents the reorganization, but not the abolition, of patriarchy. Patriarchy was relocated into the private domain and reformulated as complementary to civil society. In this way, gender is given a highly specific and structuring role within liberal theory at the same time as liberal theory presents itself as genderneutral. As Pateman influentially suggested: ‘Precisely because liberalism conceptualises civil society in abstraction from ascriptive domestic life, the latter remains ‘forgotten’ in theoretical terms. The separation between private and public is thus re-established as a division within civil society itself, within the world of men’ (Pateman, 1988, 121–122). These first two critiques suggest that a holistic rejection of the liberal model of the public/private distinction is needed. In contrast, the third critique of the public/private distinction that emerges within feminist theory is basically supportive of liberalism, seeking only to rid it of patriarchal distortions. This third critique of the public/private dichotomy is articulated most clearly by Susan Moller Okin, and focuses on the historical practice of liberal regimes. The charge here is that, notwithstanding the abstract commitment to the
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importance of a prohibition on state intervention in the private sphere, liberal states have in practice regulated and controlled the family (Okin, 1989, 1998). Not only has this practice been contrary to the fundamental principle of liberalism, it has been adopted in pursuit of a profoundly illiberal end: the perpetuation of patriarchy. While the state adopted this directly non-neutral relation to personal and domestic life, it also upheld practices within the marketplace, which presumed that those engaged in waged-work could rely on the support and care of someone at home. To add to the insult, from the perspective of women, the principle of non-intervention in the private sphere has been used by the state to justify inaction regarding cases of child-abuse, marital rape and domestic violence. As Zillah Eisenstein has pointed out: ‘The state is said to be public (by definition) and therefore divorced from the private realm, which is the area of women’s lives. The state can appear through its own ideology, to be unrelated to the family as the private sphere, when in actuality this sphere is both defined and regulated in relation to the state realm’ (Eisenstein, 1993, 26). In short, liberal states have actually enforced patriarchal power relations within the family, while formally denying their responsibility to intervene in familial disputes on the grounds that it is essential to limit state intervention in civil society and personal relations. This tension emerges as a result of the way in which liberal discourses concerning the public/private distinction inconsistently incorporate classical and patriarchal discourses into their own. Given these critiques, feminist political theorists have understood their task to entail understanding how some forms of the public/private distinction have oppressed women, and also to reconstruct if possible formulations of the distinction that do not. In this context, feminist theorists have turned towards the project of reconceptualizing the public and private in new, less gendered ways. There is evidence that the feminist literature on the public/private distinction takes one beyond critique to prescription. Indeed, some have suggested that a single alternative feminist model of the public/private distinction has emerged. The feminist approach conceives of the distinction as one between the family and the larger economic and political order (Weintraub, 1997, 7). Thus feminist critiques become a feminist approach, offering its own normative endorsement of the distinction between public and private. However, a closer inspection of the feminist attempts to retheorize the public/private distinction reveals three distinct strategies, rather than one single model. These are: firstly, the degendering of the values associated with the public and the private; secondly, the reconceptualization of either the public or the private, or both; thirdly, the deconstruction of the dichotomy itself (Lister, 1997, 120–121). In contrast to the early feminist slogan that ‘the personal is political’, theorists advocating both the first and second strategies surveyed here are
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unified in their endorsement of the importance of maintaining some form of distinction between the public and the private. Okin, for instance, suggests that ‘there are some reasonable distinctions to be made between the public and domestic spheres’ and Pateman acknowledges that the argument that the personal is the political is merely a slogan, which should not obscure the fact that different criteria ought to order our interactions as citizens and as ‘friends and lovers’ (Okin, 1989, 112–113; see also Elshtain, 1981; Young, 1990). These strategies attempt ‘to break down the rigid demarcation between public and private without obliterating the distinction between these two domains’ (Shanley and Narayan, 1997, xiv). Accepting the normative desirability of a public/private distinction, theorists worked first to disentangle gender discourses from the dichotomy, then to reconsider the nature of the two entities, public and private, that might best constitute the degendered dichotomy. Much of this thinking is implicitly informed by a desire to reclaim the private as a sphere of intimacy, in the face of the dominance of conceptions of the private sphere as a sphere of domestic oppression. In contrast, the third attempt to rethink the public and private would deconstruct the continued pertinence of the distinction itself. The first attempt to rethink the public and private focuses on the importance of eliminating gender disparities in terms of who occupies each sphere. An important strategy for undermining the gendered nature of the distinction has involved challenging the idea that women have actually always been confined to the ‘private’ realm. To accept this claim (even if only to criticize the negative effect that it has had on women) is to perpetuate a patriarchal discourse rather than destabilize it. The reality has always been more complex. Working class women, for example, have rarely been afforded the luxury of remaining entirely within the home (Reverby and Helly, 1997). In addition to producing alternative historical narratives (thereby destabilizing the binary narratives that help perpetuate women’s confinement to the private), many feminists have urged reforms that would facilitate women’s actual increased participation in the public sphere. The ambition here is to allow women access to the participatory political sphere of positive freedom and public recognition along with men. Friedan (1963), for example, saw women’s confinement to the private sphere as the source of ‘the problem’ and encouraged their entry into the public sphere of professional employment and political engagement as the source of their liberation. In so doing she reinforced prevailing understandings of the private as natural drudgery and the public as the site of human achievement. Friedan accepted the notion of the private sphere as oppressive, and suggested that women escape its confines as men have done. The focus of this first strategy then is on degendering the make-up of public and private spheres (usually through encouraging women’s participation in the public sphere rather than men’s increased participation in
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the private) rather than challenging the conceptualization of the spheres themselves. In contrast, the second attempt to rethink the public and private focuses on the construction of the spheres themselves, not just the gender of their occupants. As part of this broad project feminist theorists have proposed revised conceptualizations of both the private and the public spheres. Susan Moller Okin focuses on the failure of liberal states to extend the principles of justice to the private sphere as the problem, and locates the resolution in an extension of liberal rights to domestic and familial relations. She advocates granting women the rights of negative liberty within the private sphere already claimed by men. Her suggestion is that the liberal notion proper of privacy has value if agents are in a position to be able to use that privacy constructively. Okin believes that privacy is important because it is a place for intimate relations with others, it creates space where one can temporarily shed one’s public roles and offers a means of securing the time alone to develop one’s creativity (Okin, 1998, 136). Extending the principles of liberal justice to the domestic realm would reclaim and degender the liberal conception of privacy, ridding it of its contingent incorporation of non-liberal traditions (Okin, 1989). Similarly, Elshtain (1981) depicts the private sphere as a potential sphere of intimate human relations protected from the influence of the political and Iris Marion Young proposes a definition of the private as: ‘that aspect of his or her life and activity that any person has the right to exclude from others’ (Young, 1990, 119). There is, in these texts, a shared commitment to maintaining a private sphere which is equally realizable for both men and women and a clear acknowledgement that any such sphere will be socially constituted and historically contingent. Various issues remain unresolved in these revisionings however. It is, for example, unclear whether one can maintain an idea of private affairs that is socially and politically decided without that idea also being ‘institutional’ in some sense. This recovered notion of privacy may be dissociated from the family and the domestic, but does tend still to be overtly spatial. In addition to these attempts to map out new, degendered conceptions of the private, various new articulations of the public have also recently emerged. Whereas the reconceived models of the private sphere tend to appeal to a liberal tradition, many of the reconceived models of the public sphere have been influenced by Habermas’s (1989) work. His conception of a public sphere is characterized by the institutionalization of the ideal of equality, the existence of rational communication and deliberation on issues of general significance. Many feminist theorists have criticized this model for being overly universalistic and so suppressing concrete difference, which has the effect of marginalizing women from the public (Benhabib, 1992; Fraser, 1992). Yet several, nonetheless, aim to revise and ‘feminize’ this vision of the public sphere
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rather than reject it (Benhabib, 1992; Fraser, 1992; Landes, 1998). Young, for example, proposes a more heterogeneous public, open to ‘bodily and affective particularity’ (Young, 1998, 443). Her suggestion is that the public should be open and accessible, which will require the rejection of the tradition of Enlightenment republicanism that, in aspiring to the ‘common good’, inevitably submerges particularity. If public spaces are to be inclusive, Young maintains, they must promote the positive recognition of differences of perspective, experience and affiliation. The distinction between public and private is maintained. Its association with distinct institutions or human attributes is firmly rejected, but the emphasis on spatial division is maintained (Young, 1990, 116–121). The third strategy, though, draws on a general deconstructive challenge to dichotomous thinking. Such thinking, as Raia Prokhovnik shows, entails an accepted opposition between two identities, which are hierarchically ordered, where this pair is held to define the whole (Prokhovnik, 1999, 23–31). It generates two polarized terms, one of which is defined by its not being the other, such that the secondary status of the subordinate term is a condition for the possibility of the dominant one. The deconstruction of dichotomies, revealing the ways in which each side of a binary division implies and reflects the other, is one of the central methodological devices of an increasingly prevalent theoretical approach, now highly influential within feminist theory (Barrett and Phillips, 1992, 8). Those who adopt this third approach to the public/private distinction highlight the extent to which previous critiques have reinforced the notion that there actually is a dichotomy at work. When Pateman famously asserted that the public/private dichotomy is ‘ultimately, what the feminist movement is about’ (Pateman, 1988, 103) she may have actually entrenched the apparent dichotomy between public and private by accepting its status as a binary divide. More recently, theorists have begun to question this assumption. Joan Scott, for example, suggests that: ‘It makes no sense for the feminist movement to let its arguments be forced into pre-existing categories and its political disputes to be characterized by a dichotomy we did not invent’ (Scott, 1997, 765). And Diana Coole argues that ‘a dichotomous cartography looks both anachronistic and complicit’ (Coole, 2000, 350). Following the achievement of women’s right to vote and stand for election, the rise of ‘girl power’ and the feminization of the workforce it is simply not clear, suggests Coole, that women are any longer primarily confined to, or associated with, the private sphere. Moreover in the context of diversity politics, it is increasingly problematic to assume that ‘women’ as a coherent category have any single and stable relation to spheres of life: ‘Not only are women themselves seen to be differentially distributed across a series of spaces, due to their complex identities, but it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that gender is the
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privileged index of spatial politics’ (Coole, 2000, 350). In the context of the increasing mobility and visibility of populations following new technological developments, it is perhaps no longer remotely realistic to maintain a commitment to privacy as a spatially guaranteed phenomenon (Squires, 1994). As Peter Steinberger recognizes, feminist writers ‘have demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that the idea of a separate and distinct sphere of privacy is indeed an ideological distortion, incompatible with our moral institutions and inconsistent with the realities of a complex, highly differentiated society’ (Steinberger, 1999, 312). This third approach is committed, like the first, to deconstructing the apparently natural correlation between women and the private sphere, men and the public sphere. It is also committed, like the second, to deconstructing the current dominant binary dualism between public and private. But, unlike the other two, this third approach would deconstruct the pertinence of the dichotomy itself, suggesting that not only patriarchal, but also feminist articulations of the dichotomy are both anachronistic and disciplinary. Despite the diversity among the proposals to reconstruct the meaning and significance of the public and private, the second group of theorists nonetheless maintain a dichotomous framework and a language of binary spheres. The danger, as Coole points out, is that, ‘because feminism is so closely identified with the language of public and private... we might carry on using it in a situation where it is no longer empirically relevant or politically useful’ (Coole, 2000, 346). This is a concern that we share. In the next section, we will show how the dichotomy continues to be a framing concern within contemporary feminist thought. We endorse this third approach over the other two, and suggest that it would be strengthened by drawing on the notion of relational space developed within feminist geography.

The Dichotomy as Explanatory and Normative Framework
We have indicated that the public/private dichotomy has had a central role within feminist theory. This role has taken two distinct forms: a conceptual framework for explaining sexual inequality, and a normative framework for advocating feminist political goals. Particular articulations of the dichotomy are subject to critique, while other articulations are proposed in their place. Leonore Davidoff helpfully notes that: ‘The public/private divide has played a dual role as both an explanation of women’s subordinate position and as an ideology that constructed that position’ (Davidoff, 1998, 165). This is useful in that it highlights the possibility of rejecting the dichotomy as an ideology, while acknowledging its explanatory importance. This allows one to work with the dichotomy in order to unsettle its discursive legitimacy. As Pnina Werbner
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indicates: ‘It is sometimes necessary to hold on to a distinction while continually questioning its very possibility. This strategy, of writing against the grain from within a discoursey, displaces discursive certainties by highlighting the instability and multivocality of conceptual distinctions’ (Werbner, 1999, 228). Yet, we suggest, much of the feminist theory literature holds onto the distinction, not as a strategy for questioning its possibility, but as both an explanatory and a normative framework. Our point is that feminists have been concerned to critique the public/private dichotomy as an ideology that constructed women’s subordinate status. To do so, they have used the public/private dichotomy as an explanation of this subordinate status. Yet it is not clear that the dichotomy is always a useful explanatory tool. The assumption that the public/private dichotomy is an essential conceptual frame from which to explain sexual inequality is not proven. We will suggest that there may well be other more fruitful frameworks for explaining sexual inequality. Additionally, we also want to suggest that, because of the assumed centrality of the division as an explanatory framework, many theorists have been particularly concerned to recast the distinction in new, non-patriarchal ways. In other words, in the process of using the dichotomy for explanation, many feminists (primarily those adopting the second approach outlined above) have come to articulate the public/private dichotomy as a normative framework of their own. Theorists attempt to reconfigure the public/private distinction because they think it has an explanatory function. To question the centrality of the dichotomy as an explanatory framework is also to question the wisdom of adopting it, in revised feminist form, as a normative framework. Which is why we opt for the third approach in preference to the first or second. It is simply not clear that the dichotomy is a useful explanatory framework. Feminist scholars attempting to use it as a framework for analysing women’s political exclusion usually find it inadequate to the task. Simona Sharoni, for example, notes that, ‘while the public–private dichotomy was originally invoked to challenge women’s exclusion, its uncritical use may reinforce the view that women have no power or political agency and that they are totally dependent on the existing social and political structures’ (Sharoni, 1998, 1063). She finds this particularly significant in relation to women’s role in the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Palestine/Israel, where the boundaries between household and communal space are practically erased. As Sharoni states: ‘the rich and complex stories of women’s political involvement in these communities at the height of the conflict underscore the need to redefine what is considered ‘‘political’’ in ways that transcend the public–private divide and its gendered underpinnings. The so-called ‘‘public’’ and ‘‘private’’ spheres and the gendered division of power and labour they inscribe become destabilized, permeable, or altogether irrelevant in times of political crisis and especially in
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times of escalating conflict when the community faces an outside challenge’ (1998, 1071). She does, nonetheless, continue to invoke the dichotomy in her attempt to understand women’s political involvement in these conflicts, even though she is aware that it offers few critical insights. Many feminist political theorists tend to challenge pre-existing definitions of the dichotomy, rather than the dichotomy itself. The assumption that the dichotomy has a strong explanatory function generates a sense that it must also be important to reclaim its normative weight. Because it is assumed that the public/private dichotomy explains sexual inequality in some way, it is also assumed that a reconceptualized public/private dichotomy will play an important role in the project of achieving sexual equality. The emphasis on the explanatory significance of the dichotomy has long been a central feature of feminist writing, but the concern with a reconceived version of the dichotomy as a positive normative framework is a more recent development. There are a few theorists who question the normative use of the dichotomy. Nira YuvalDavis, for instance, argues that, given the ‘inconsistencies and confusions’ as to what is entailed in the private sphere, we should replace the distinction with a state/civil society/family distinction (1997, 80–81). However, this recommendation is largely out of tune with the majority of recent feminist writings. Vicky Randall, for instance, notes that whilst early radical feminism called into question the public/private distinction, more recently theorists have increasingly endorsed the normative significance of the distinction (1998, 186–187). Supporting this claim, Kate Nash notes that Anne Phillips insists that a distinction between public and private must be drawn to take into account the difference between particular concerns and considerations of the general interest: ‘but she is uncharacteristically unclear about exactly how and where this distinction is to be drawn’ (Nash, 1998, 52–53). Influentially, Ruth Lister argues that the identification of women with the private sphere has served to underpin their exclusion from full citizenship (Lister, 1997, 66–90), and therefore the rearticulation of the public/private divide provides a starting point for challenging women’s exclusion from full citizenship (Lister, 1997, 119–144). Similarly, Seyla Benhabib challenges traditionalist understandings of the public/private split whilst arguing that the feminist project still needs some distinction between private and public (Benhabib, 1992, 89–120).3 Neither Lister nor Benhabib are pursuing a strategy of ‘writing against the grain’. They each propose an alternative, superior, rendering of the distinction. They thereby re-assert the usefulness of the distinction, in both explanatory and normative terms. Nancy Fraser points out that ‘not everyone stands in the same relation to privacy and publicity; some have more power than others to draw and defend the line’ (Fraser, 1998, 334). The feminist project, she suggests, aims in part to overcome the gender hierarchy that gives men more power than women to
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draw the line between public and private (1998, 331). If Fraser is right here, it would seem particularly important that feminist agendas are not determined by pre-existing definitions of the public/private distinction, nor constrained by unexamined assumptions as to the centrality of the distinction itself. The assumption of the pertinence of dichotomous spaces to theoretical analysis, characteristic of much feminist political theory, needs to be tempered by the work of feminist geographers. For feminist political theorists, working within the first two approaches detailed above, tend to work with a positivistic notion of space, long critiqued within the discipline of geography.

From Absolute to Relational Space
Any analysis of the role of public and private spheres in contemporary society must acknowledge the theoretical tools of spatial analysis developed within the discipline of human geography. Space and place are two of geography’s most fundamental concepts (Rose, 1993, 41; Massey et al. 1999, 245). Until the 1960s, geography worked with a positivistic understanding of spaces as absolute, an unchanging arena in which objects exists and events occur (Johnston et al. 2000, 768). But humanistic, marxist and feminist geographers have all found this science of the spatial unsatisfactory. As Gillian Rose notes, ‘Humanistic geographers tried to recover the ways in which places were perceived, arguing that it was impossible to make sense of the social world unless academics listened to the interpretations of those who lived in it’ (Rose, 1993, 41). They focused their attention on the social and political processes in which spatial patterns were embedded. This meant, as David Harvey suggests, ‘the question ‘‘what is space?’’ is replaced by the question ‘‘how is it that different human practices create and make use of distinctive conceptualizations of space’?’’ (Harvey, 1973, 14). This new form of questioning created a new key concept: place, as distinct to the spaces of positivistic geography. ‘In contrast to spaces,’ Rose notes ‘which were represented through scientifically rational measurements of location, places were full of human interpretation and significance’ (Rose, 1993, 43). However, this humanistic approach to places was itself subject to critique by marxists and feminists, who argued that this approach was insufficiently attentive to broader social power relations which structure experiences of place. Feminist geographers argued that humanistic geography tended to claim to be able to access the essence of place in an authoritative manner, which continued to exclude those places experienced by women. From the early 1970s onwards marxist geography has developed a more materialist analysis of space and place. Here space and places are understood as shaped by the uneven nature of capitalist development, resulting in a focus on the differentiation of
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spaces (Rose, 1993, 118). Sharing the marxist critique of uneven developments, feminists focused on the unevenness between the social relations of production and reproduction.4 Challenging the dominant tendency to exclude reproduction from spatial analysis, feminist geographer Linda McDowell demanded that ‘the oversimple dichotomy between the public and the private sectors, work and home,’ be replaced with ‘the interrelationship of production and reproduction as part of a single process’ (McDowell, 1998). In the 1980s feminist geography therefore focused on the interrelation between a domestic, reproductive space and a masculine, productive space. As Rose notes: ‘The realm of reproduction, the private, the bodily and the emotional was presented as means of detailing the exclusions of masculinist space and agency’ (Rose, 1993, 124). This is significant, in that it echoes the emphasis within feminist political theory, on the division between the public and private spheres. However, more recently feminist geographers have challenged this map of a city divided into two, and suggested that ‘the associations of the city with the masculine and the suburbs with the feminine are pervasive cultural constructions rather than accurate descriptions of sociopolitical reality’ (Rose, 1993, 125). As Saegert argued, while influential, ‘the segregation of public and private, male and female domains appears strongest as a guiding fiction’ (Saegert, 1981, 108). This is a crucial insight in relation to our own analysis of the public and private, as they are used within feminist political theory. It is an insight that emerged from within a broader development regarding the theorization of space. In recent years, a relational conception of space has emerged within human geography. Within this perspective, both place and space are made: ‘through materially embedded practices, or through the social production of lived space, or as a result of a particular version of interrelational performance.’ (Massey et al.,1999, 246). This understanding of places and spaces renders actual places and spaces more immediately political: they are in a continual process of being made, thereby retaining an element of openness and contestability. Moreover, as spatial commentators, ‘we ourselves are embedded in the making of spaces, and the very act of describing and understanding spaces will alter their configuration (1999, 246). These two points, that space is relational and that those who describe spaces are embedded in the process of making spaces, have profound implications for our understanding of feminist political theorists’ discussions of the public/ private spheres. Their attempts to describe and understand the public and private spheres should be viewed, not as accounts of essential spaces that have an existence separate from these descriptions, but as part of the very process of performing spaces as public and private. As Saegert suggests in relation to feminist geography, the mapping of reproductive labour onto suburban locations may be influenced by particular experiences and values F the focus
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on mothering as a burden of domestic labour may speak to only a few women (in Rose, 1993, 125). The social specificity of the ‘private’ is made clear, Rose suggests, in the critique of the public/private distinction made by feminists of colour. Patricia Hill Collins, for example, suggests that public and private may not be appropriate terms for interpreting the social geography of AfroAmerican communities (Hill Collins, 2000). The boundary between ‘the public’ and ‘the private’ clearly does not mean the same thing for different women. Following the theoretical and political recognition of difference, feminist geographers have increasingly moved away from grand dichotomous analyses of public and private spaces, and focused their attention on studies of the intricate geography of gender accessed through local studies. The discursive power of the socially specific distinction between the public and the private is argued to place limits on feminist work, rendering it blind to diversity. In its place one now finds work that is grounded in the details and heterogeneity of the everyday. These relational spaces ‘form a multidimensional tangle of many socialities, each with their own spatiality; some intersecting, some autonomous, some complementary and some contradictory, and all shifting historically and geographically, (Rose, 1993, 134). This relational conception of space F multidimensional, shifting and contingent F offers a new kind of geography ‘which refuses the exclusion of the old’ (1993, 141). This development is pertinent to feminist political theory in that it indicates a need to move from the second to the third approach to the dichotomy, and to supplement this with a greater attentiveness to the relational nature of pluralized spaces. ‘This geography can no longer simply be a mapping of social power relations onto territorial spaces: masculine and feminine onto public and private, for exampley Social space can no longer be imagined simply in terms of a territory of gendery Instead, spaces structured over many dimensions are necessary’ (1993, 151). This requires ever more intricate skills in cartography.

Sexual Roles and Sexual Space: the Twin Logics of Sex
In previous sections, we have worked to uncover the assumption in feminist theory that sexual inequality is reproduced primarily via the gendering of the public/private distinction F by the connections, that is, which are drawn between the ‘reality’ of sexual difference and the ‘reality’ of the public and private spheres. In this section, we will suggest that the explanatory framework employed by feminists needs to be broader and more open to other possibilities. In particular, feminists need to be more open to both the ways in which spatial divisions are subject to change (as work in feminist geography indicates), and, we would suggest, to the possibility that spatial divisions per se may wax or wane in significance. In this section, we draw on deconstructionist
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work on sex and gender to outline a broad analytical framework, which allows us to put these questions into context. Deconstructionist positions on sex and gender have had a significant influence on feminist theory. The distinction between sex and gender has been a prime target of deconstructive feminist work, and as a result it is now highly contested (Butler, 1990; Grosz, 1995; Prokhovnik, 1999). Specifically, the sex/ gender distinction has been shown to reproduce a suspect nature/culture dichotomy, by way of which the apparently natural status of sex goes unexamined. Deconstructionist positions indicate that sexual difference itself has been constructed in a variety of ways which serve to rule a variety of social activities F and social locations F in or out for men or for women, to the extent that the description of sex as a neutral ground for social interpretation must be rejected. This is not to say that there is no such thing as sexual difference, but it is to say that our knowledge about sex passes first through the institutional filter of science (with its own political and economic imperatives), and second through further rounds of social elaboration during which elements of ‘scientific knowledge’ can be played up or played down. But declaring that our ideas of sex are mediated by social and political processes is only half of the story. There has been little clarity about how sex is constructed in such a way as to generate political conclusions, what sort of assumptions or logics get worked into our conceptions of sex, and how they are able to generate the conclusions that they do. There is ostensibly an is-ought gap between noting the ‘facts’ of sexual difference, and arguing that these have implications for human action. Nevertheless, the arguments which bridge this gap are often placed by subterfuge within the realm of the ‘natural’, by claiming that there are natural roles or places for men and women to inhabit, that is, specific arguments attempt to obscure the gap between description and prescription. In this section, we will address these arguments, which act as ‘bridges’ between the so-called facts of sexual difference and the conclusions that we draw from them about the proper behaviour of men and women. We will argue that this is a necessary step in demonstrating, for instance, how space and sex can come to be implicated in one another. Deconstructionist positions, we would argue, enable us to perceive that sex (maleness and femaleness) has been conceptualized in such a way that it contains ideas about proper activities for the sexes to perform or, for example, correct modes of sexuality. These social expectations are not separate from sex, or conclusions drawn from its timeless reality, but are ‘truths’ embedded deeply in our conceptions of sex. In fact, arguments that seek to draw ‘natural’ conclusions for social practice from the ‘facts’ of sex are inherently contradictory, insofar as they characteristically seek to outlaw the impossible. In the words of an anonymous feminist pictured in a cartoon from the 1970s: ‘Well, if I get my natural feminine instincts biologically, I’m not having you TELLING
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me how to be a woman!’ (included in Bilton et al., 1981). The very fact that such arguments recur undermines their claims to be grounded in ‘nature’. Sex is constructed in such a way as to discourage women from taking part in a variety of activities, which they are by implication at least sometimes capable of. So what are these arguments that function to structure behaviour? We argue that there are two principal types of argument that get ‘read into’ sex. Broadly, these are efficiency and propriety arguments. While this may not exhaust the possibilities, we would contend that these are the most important. Sexual stereotypes are mobilized via arguments about efficiency or natural propensity on the one hand, and of what have in classical sociology been called sacred/ profane distinctions on the other. Once we examine matters in this way, we are immediately much more able to pinpoint the ways in which notions of sex are produced in relation to specific social, political and economic ends. It will be argued that acknowledging the centrality of such logics allows us to conceive the object of feminist practice more clearly. These logics are amenable to a number of strategies. Efficiency arguments most often seek to produce conclusions about appropriate roles.5 The hidden bridge here is the argument that it is socially inefficient for women to be involved in activities for which men are better suited, and vice versa. For instance, the two arguments that women should do x or y because they are naturally suited to it, or that they should do it because it is socially efficient for them to do so, are merged completely in the ‘Darwinist’ position which is becoming increasingly popular across the social and natural sciences. It now becomes possible to argue that women can perform a role or activity more efficiently because they are naturally suited to it, at the same time as arguing that women have become naturally suited to (have evolved to do) a role because they could initially do it more efficiently. In fact, Darwinism can provide no explanation from ‘nature’ at all, because Darwinian theory itself assumes nature to be entirely contingent and lacking in ultimate foundations, and more to the point contingent on a set of environmental changes which it does not even attempt to explain. Arguments about propriety and impropriety, on the other hand, have often invoked spatial metaphors, which reflect the ways in which we order our social lives with a variety of real or imaginary maps. Spatial metaphors and images are ideal tools for the production of relations of inequality. As feminist geographers have noted, once we think in spatial terms, we are immediately able to treat space differentially, and to legislate differential access for different people F in short, we are able to think in terms of inclusion and exclusion. These judgements about distinct places, and about who should inhabit them, are termed sacred/profane distinctions (Turner, 1996, 7). That is, they work via metaphors of purity and impurity, of places that are in some sense sacred, and of people who are not sufficiently sacred to inhabit them. Originally, this
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religious metaphor was singularly appropriate, as sexual inequality was structured around judgements that, for instance, women should not be allowed into the temple, because they were unclean (often because they menstruated). Arguments about propriety and impropriety were in the past most readily accommodated within arguments pertaining to religion and faith. But processes of secularization have seen the policing of sexual and spatial boundaries taken on by the organs of the state, civil society and the various professions, most notably medical or legal. The Enlightenment philosophies which displaced religion in modern Western societies with ideologies of reason and of man’s control over nature, also came to associate women with creation and death, and hence with the cycles of nature.6 Women, in effect, become part of nature, whilst men strove towards, and to some extent achieved, transcendence and mastery over that nature (O’Brien, 1981). Eventually, the crude sacred/profane distinction based on the ritual purity of the temple was detached from questions of ‘cleanliness’, and largely supplanted by a secular dichotomy between reason and emotion. Simultaneously, the public/private division located the private sphere as the proper realm of emotion, and constructed the public sphere as the proper place for rational deliberation and decision-making (Lloyd, 1984; Young, 1998). As part of this process, sexual difference (maleness and femaleness) was therefore redefined away from issues of menstruation, lactation and so on (although never entirely), and visions of sexual difference based on intellect and compassion came to be increasingly important. This redefinition of sex itself, which comes to be seen as more and more of a distinction between different characters, eventually found a happy if temporary home in the language of male and female hormones. The important thing to note here is that different spatial divisions have come to produce similar levels of sexual inequality. These divisions are subject to change, and there is no reason to associate sexual inequality categorically with any one set of these spatial divisions. By the same token, quite different arguments can be used to police the same set of boundaries. This can be seen particularly clearly in the case of arguments about male and female sexuality, and beliefs about the status of the ‘streets’ as a place of perpetual danger. In the Victorian era, the identification of female sexuality as an unstable and dangerous quantity (which almost had an existence independent of its ‘carrier’) often provided a powerful defence for women’s exclusion from ‘the streets’. Indeed, the sexuality of any women who did inhabit the streets was often stigmatized as a result. In the 20th century, however, this argument has declined in importance. Radical feminists in the 20th century, in fact, argued that a key process in the control of women was the construction of the streets as a place of danger in consequence of the constant risk of sexual violence from men with aggressive and uncontrollable sexualities. The important point is that
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the same conclusions for practice are derived, by pathologizing the sexuality of first one sex and then the other. What the above discussion indicates, we would argue, is that the notion of any one set of spatial divisions as the primary source of women’s oppression takes insufficient account of both the diversity of the spatial divisions which have been sexed in some way or another, and the diversity of the arguments which have been mobilized to shuttle between the ‘facts’ of sexual difference and conclusions for social practice. The need for a more intricate geography, employing a relational conception of space, is answered well by feminist geographers such as Bondi and Domash (1998), in their analysis of ‘the contours of public space’. Bondi and Domash offer an exploration of the historical unfolding and reshaping of the public/ private dichotomy, aiming to destabilize the fixity of meaning frequently ascribed to public and private spaces (1998, 271; see also Nicholson (1986) for a related approach). They explore the gendered construction of public and private space in the early modern period, the mid-19th century, and the late 20th century in Britain. It is in the early modern period, in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, that most commentators have located the initial separation of the public and private spheres. The spatial differentiation between production and the domestic emerged. Women were increasingly associated with private space and men with public space, allowing the new public spaces to be uncontaminated by the values of the previous order (1998, 275). By the mid-19th century almost all productive activities had been removed from the home and the doctrine of the separate spheres dominated all aspects of middle class life. Yet by the late 20th century the ‘public’ qualities of urban spaces have been eroded and middle-class women have been making advances into certain aspects of public life (1998, 281). Nonetheless, women’s access to the public sphere remains constrained by their gender at certain times of the day: they remain constrained by the continuing threat and rhetoric of violence against women in unsurveilled public space (1998, 284). Bondi and Domash conclude that by the late 20th century, the doctrine of separate spheres has largely broken down. The line separating production and consumption, the family from state and economy, has become more fluid. The decline in public spaces is closely associated with feminization of these spaces. Crucially, ‘the lack of correspondence between the public sphere and public space has different consequences for different groups’ (1998, 285). So spatial divisions are subject to change, and there is no reason to assume that any one set of divisions holds the timeless key to sexual inequalities. Furthermore, it may be taken as an implication of the account we have given here that the assumption that spatial divisions F even considered in the broadest sense F will inevitably remain the primary conduit for sexual
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inequalities must also be subjected to scepticism. The arguments that mediate between ideas of sexual difference and social expectations are flexible and historically contingent. It has been noted that spatial divisions, for instance, were most often supported by arguments about the propriety and impropriety of men’s and women’s location. Efficiency arguments, which relate more obviously to activity rather than location, on the other hand, have come to the fore in the modern world. It could be suggested, therefore, that claims about activities or roles are now of greater significance in perpetuating sexual inequalities than arguments about space and location. We would subject such an argument to one reservation: that places and activities are mutually implicated. Places are ‘performative’ in the sense that they are (re)produced by what goes on in them. By the same token, pressures towards sexual segregation in the labour force, for instance, produce clear spatial patterns of advantage and disadvantage. Given this, there are good reasons to suggest that an analysis of the logics of place and roles are more effective when united. As a general point, however, we follow Walby (1990) in arguing that changes in the form of partriarchy (or here sexual inequality) have to be distinguished from changes in the degree of patriarchy. Although former spatial divisions may be of less salience, this does not automatically give us grounds for celebration, because such divisions may merely have been supplanted by other means of perpetuating sexual inequality, whether spatial or otherwise. Nevertheless, if we make the effort to disentangle cause and effect, it could well be the case that sexual inequalities are less bound up in assumptions about space and place than they once were. Indeed, whether or not this is the case at present, it follows from the preceding analysis that there is no reason to assume that spatial thinking will always form the primary channel of sexual inequality. Establishing whether this is the case now is not our goal here, but we would argue that feminists need to be theoretically open to such a possibility. Thus knocking the public/private distinction off the privileged pedestal it has occupied in feminist thought, only to assume that other spatial divisions must now have taken its place, would be short-sighted. We also need to denaturalize the assumption that the hierarchical construction of space is ultimately what determines sexual inequalities. Whether this is the case at any given point needs to be established through careful analysis, not theoretical dogma.

Conclusion
Feminist engagement with the public/private dichotomy has resulted in innumerable positive contributions to political theory and practice. On the theoretical level, the most significant contribution has been the uncovering of the place of the domestic within mainstream political theory. Inverting the
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standpoint of the observer, feminist theorists looked out from the domestic sphere and asserted that the liberal insistence on labelling civil society as private had the effect of hiding the very existence of the domestic. Most of the feminist writing on public and private has worked to undermine the stability of the dichotomy in that it has uncovered the historical contingency of any distinction between the public and the private, and has drawn attention to the ambiguities arising from the coexistence of several distinct articulations of the distinction within contemporary discourses. While the dominant ideology of contemporary Western societies continues to be a liberal one, these critiques of the public/private dichotomy retain their relevance. However, it is possible that this writing has become complicit in the perpetuation of the dichotomous thinking and privileging of the spatial that surrounds debates about public and private. Phillips suggests that the public/private dichotomy ‘was early identified as the crucial underpinning to patriarchal political thought’ (Phillips, 1992, 17). This has been the received wisdom about the public/private dichotomy within feminist theory for a number of years. But this new orthodoxy stands in need of disturbance. We should question ‘whether it still makes sense ... for feminists to privilege this particular spatial division’ if ‘this particular map of gendered space is becoming anachronistic due to changing topography’ (Coole, 2000, 338). Moreover, although the feminist fixation with public and private has been useful, it can only remain so as long as public and private divisions F and spatial divisions more widely F are the primary means by which sexual inequality is sustained. Not only must we resist the assumption that the public/ private divide is inevitably what feminist struggle must be about, but we must also resist the assumption that spatial divisions per se are always going to be the most important conduit of sexual inequality. Our discussion of the various logics that might underpin sexual inequalities suggests that there is no reason why they should be. Overall, we would suggest a profound scepticism towards the notion that reformulating the dichotomy must be the most pressing goal for feminism in the 21st century. Notes
1 We would like to thank the following for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article: members of the Political Theory Reading Group, University of Bristol; participants at the ‘Gender and Geographies’ Conference, University of Bristol, 18th May 2002; the two anonymous journal referees and Raia Prokhovnik. 2 Whilst both the classical and the liberal traditions share a common emphasis on the importance of a public/private distinction, the nature of the distinction is profoundly different in each. The public/private distinction is usually cast within liberal discourses as a distinction between market and state. It is usually interpreted as a governmental, non-governmental distinction amongst neoclassical economists, whose primary concern is to demarcate the sphere of the ‘public’ authority
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281 of the state from the sphere of voluntary relations between ‘private’ individuals in the market. In contrast, the distinction is cast within the classical traditions as an opposition between oikos F the domestic sphere of production and reproduction inhabited by women and slaves, and polis F where the public is also equated with the political, though not the politics of an administrative state (as in the l iberal distinction), but the politics of discussion, deliberation, collective decisionmaking and action in concert. Interestingly, in relation to our argument about the shifting general importance of spatial divisions (see below), Benhabib argues that the liberal and republican conceptions of the public ‘are severely limited in their usefulness for analyzing and evaluating political discourse and legitimation problems in advanced capitalist.... societies’ (1992, 89–90). The only conceptualization of the public sphere that is useful to analysing contemporary society, she suggests, is one freed from any kind of spatial logic. She defines the public sphere as a political space of discursivity in which contested issues are addressed. She defines the public sphere as a political space of discursivity in which contested issues are addressed. She therefore argues against a topographical or spatial definition of the division between public and private (1992, 89–120). See Hayford (1974) for the first detailed feminist discussion of how the relationship between production and reproduction creates different kinds of spaces We use the term ‘roles’ in a general sense, to refer to interpretations of sexual difference which seek to naturalize a division of labour between ‘the sexes’ by advancing conceptions of sexual difference which foreground physical or mental capacities. However, this must be distinguished from the anthropological literature on ‘Sex Roles’ which (like the sex/gender distinction) tends to assume that sex is the neutral ground upon which notions of gender (or sex roles) are founded, a relation which the present authors would reject. See for example Mead (1950). It is important to note that this is a story about the modern West. First-world feminists often criticize religious movements in the third and in the first world for their continued reliance on spatial sexual divisions (see debates about the veil, and about purdah), whereas by implication we in the ‘civilized’, liberal West seem to have rendered such divisions obsolete. But we would reject this notion, and the assumptions about East and West which accompany it. In order to further challenge the primacy which the public/private division has often enjoyed in feminist political theory, it is necessary to note that there is little reason to believe that the division has functioned as a single, universal historical fact. In terms of contemporary sexual inequalities, we would wholeheartedly agree with Partha Chatterjee, who ‘suggests that the line between public and private is a completely inadequate tool for analysing constructions of civil societies in postcolonial nations and that a non-westocentric analysis of gender relations cannot assume the boundary between private and public as given’ (quoted in [56] Yuval-Davis, 1997, 5–6).

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