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Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory by Nancy Fraser Review by: Patricia S. Mann Hypatia, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1991), pp. 225-228 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Hypatia, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810111 . Accessed: 15/02/2012 03:53
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but like manyothersof her political generationin variousdisciplines.Out of eight essays in Unruly Practices.Book Reviews 225 by questionshe set out to address arguingthat the real and apparentdesiresof women can be distinguishedthroughreferenceto a "trueself. Nancy Fraseris a socialist feminist and a philosopher. and Gender in ContemporarySocial Theory.a self that can accountforresistanceand creativity without recourseto a transcendentconstitutingsubject. poststructuralists. Discourse. Fraser's with that of other membersof odysseycorresponds a studentgenerationwhose intellectualandpersonaldevelopmentwasineradicably affectedby their participationin the civil rights. both directlyin termsof her criticalanalysis of these thinkers. Germansocial a theoristwho continues the Frankfurt School tradition. post-Marxistswho frequently identify their workas "cultural politics. Fraserwas "trained"(the technical terminologyis indicative of the selfunderstandingof American philosopherstoday) as an analytic philosopher. and who then went on in the eighties to pursue careers within mainstreamsocial institutions such as the academy. Patricia Mann S. Fraser's essaysreflect this tension."The "trueself" she offers." Recent continental social theory provides an important foundation for anyone attemptingto articulatea genderedtheoreticalposition.Minneapolis:University of MinnesotaPress.criticalintellectualwithin the academy"(2). one is on recent Parisianintellectual debates about the political implicationsof JacquesDerrida's theory of deconstruction. Frasersuggests UnrulyPractices and that we read them as "the recordof one socialist-feminist's formerNew Leftactivist'sstruggleto bea politicallycommitted. and yet it is also a highly problematicsource of supportfor a socialist-feministpolitics.What feminist theory needs is a conception of self that displacesthe Enlightenmentdichotomies. 1989.While the essaysin were written separatelyover the past decade.and another is on the treatmentof genderwithin the workofJiirgenHabermas. UnrulyPractices providesa fascinatingview of the complex intellectual negotiations a politically savvy womanchooses to make in orderto be heardin an academiccontext.however. Unruly Practices: Power. is only a slightly reworkedversion of the Enlightenment subject. three are on the French philosopher of history Michel Foucault.antiwar.and feminist activismof the sixties and seventies.she finds her intellectual mooringin currentEuropean social theory. By NANCY FRASER.and also indirectlyin termsof her not-fully-satisfyingeffort .These aretheoretically mostreadilyby that interdisciplinary demandingessaysandwill be appreciated and group of academic feminists.
The strugglesagainst racism. she simply assertsthat ground-breaking humanism"is presentlybeing done by a numberof feminists.Fraser cogently explains why Foucault.But the theoretical implicationsof Marx'scritique of the efficacyof individualagency in struggling againstvariousformsof social oppressionwent The relationship beyondhis own applicationof them in termsof classstruggle. and is even seeing a powerfulresurgencetoday in the context of the waning of communismin the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The liberal ideal of individual economic and political agency survived Marx'scritique. and a "racist-imperialist" in Vietnam took their politics from an eclectic theoreticalbrew. with his "antihumanist" patriarchal ity in all its guisesis no more than a means of domination. Fraser uncoversa "gendersubtext"within his theorythat makesit impossibleforhim . primary legacy of the Marxiantraditionwith respectto issuesof political agency and social progress.Marx'stheory of the economic oppressionof the workingclass providedthe dominant model. One of the foundationstones of this theory of oppressionwas the critiqueof the basicliberalideal of individualeconomic andpolitical agency.Only a very few workerswill ever raisethemselvesout of povertyby their own individual must give up their illusionsof individualsocial efforts. JiirgenHabermasis the most significantsocial thinker presentlywilling to of defendhumanistparadigms individualagency.with his analysisof the insidiousrelationshipbetween power and knowledgeand his theory of the "capillary" qualityof relationsof power and domination.While "takingseriously his professedsupportfor the cause of women's liberation"(7).And yet.Foucaultseems to deny the possibilityof the political effortsof womento resistmale domination.and Fraser's essayexplicating is his social-theoreticalframework extremelyinteresting. war sexism. Political activism of the sixties and seventies gained its sense of political agency from the immediate conflicts at hand.Fraserconfrontsthis issue repeatedlyyet cannot finally articulate what distinguishesthe politics of women as feminists from that of other social groups. uses the argumentative Fraser machineryof analyticphilosophyto neutralize expertly Foucault'santihumanism.some of whom she lists (51-52).Workers agency and struggletogether as a class againstthe capitalistoppressors.Marxargued. provides profound support for feminist investigations of belief that subjectivoppression.226 Hypatia to formulateher own socialist-feministcritical theory in the concluding two The problemlies in the negative theoretical essaysof UnrulyPractices. Yet for subsequentefforts to theorize sexual and racial oppression. between individualagencyand variousformsof social oppressionis one of the primaryconcerns today within continental social theory and is particularly salient within the worksof the late Michel Foucault. with a "feministmacho" nonchawork on "the reassessment of lance. of course.Then.drawing upon the pacifismof Gandhi at one moment and HerbertMarcuse's theory of participatory democracyin the next.
She also criticizeshis view that for to it is "pathological" childrearing become incorporated into the systemof economic labor.Book Reviews 227 to appreciatethe emancipatorypotential of many social changes associated with the recent women'smovement. contrasting the social stigmatizationwhich attaches to "feminine""means-tested" programs like AFDC with the greaterdignityaccordedrecipientsof "masculine" "social insurance"programs.Fraser analyzes processes which needs by associatedwith women and the family. her critical insights do not translate so readilyinto positive wisdom.the most significantneeds of women too should be translatedinto "socialrights.such as needs forchildcare traditionally services enter the public sphere and become politicized and depoliticized. linchpin of modem women'ssubordination" (121-22). Perhapsthe goal is simplytoo ambitiousfor any single individualto satisfy.forcefullyarguingthat Habermas's paid position amountsto "adefense of an institutionalarrangement that is widelyheld to be one. she could ." a secondessay. In contrastwith feministswho oppose "rights-talk. if not the.She berateshim for making"no mention in his schema of any childrearer role" (125).In the last two essaysof UnrulyPractices." Fraserbelieves that insofar as individualsin this society areempowered having the state'sresponsibility by towardthem articulatedas a matterof legal rights.yet this two-hundred-year vacuum in social philosophy also explains the one advantagethat philosophyholds out to a feminist.Only the latter treat those who receive benefits as In the "rights-bearers.Yet I wish Fraser made more of an effortto call upon had the resourcesof analytic philosophy.or by the irrationalitiesof individual thought." that there mustbe a genderedreinterpretation the needs that a welfarestate of shouldsatisfy.Fraser focuseson the differentialtreatmentof men and women when they become dependent upon the state.This disciplinaryfustinessexplains the great resistanceto theories of gender within philosophy. philosophy offers an outmoded yet still seaworthyvessel for any thinker seeking to ride out the storms of postmodem disillusionmentwith notions of agency and progress.In one essay.It is true that analyticphilosopherslook all the way back to ImmanuelKant and JeremyBenthamfor their paradigms of social relations.I think she fails to meet the goal she has set herself of providing "the sort of big diagnostic picture necessary to orient [the current] political practice" of socialistfeminism(11). Fraser to articulatea socialist-feminist of the currentwelfarestate by attempts theory She argues focusing on what she terms "the politics of need interpretation." While I disagreewith very little of what Fraser saysin these essays. Had Fraser utilizedthe worksof analyticpolitical thinkerswhen she finally came to formulateher socialist-feminist theoryof the welfarestate. Unfazedbecauseuntouchedby Marxianor Freudiannotions of the social constitution of individuals. Though Fraserintends to drawfrom her critique of Habermasa sense of "whatthe categorialframework a socialist-feminist of criticaltheoryof welfare state capitalismshould look like" (138).
Although Gewirth'stheory is Kantianand socialist-feminist abstract.Fraser's with social hope. forexample. we insert ourselves into the tradition and become its cutting edge (Gewirth 1978).1 In Unruly Practices.Justice. Gewirth." provegratifying. Chicago: University Chicago and New York: BasicBooks. New Yorkand London:Routledge.1989.supportfor Fraser's of needs. and of Press. middleclass. Okin.For those who have experiencedconfusion and frustrationin attempting to squarean apparently"naive"feminist commitment to political agency and social progress with myriadformsof modem and social pessimism. angryvoices began to be heardquestioninga feminist humanism that threatenedto be as exclusionaryof those who arenot white. . thefamily.Reason morality.1978. after an initial period of apparentunity in the contemporaryfeminist movement. Editedby LINDA NICHOLSON. if unwitting.Alan Gewirth. SusanMoller."will postmoder essays. gender.Fraserbrings an analytic philosopher'sconcern for conceptual clarity to the daunting task of evaluating the work of an elusive vanguardof social theorists. Moreover.228 Hypatia have exploited the admittedly very "thin" theories of political agency and individualrights available within political philosophy today."seasoned Generousin her appreciation these male "master of thinkers. Feminism/Postmoderism. edited by Linda Nicholson.has argued that a "rightto well-being"is asfundamental a "right as to freedom"insofaras both freedomand well-being are necessaryconditions of voluntaryaction by individuals. First. 1990. I think feministtheoryis most transgressive when it implicates theory the theories of such well-meaning liberals in its designs. NOTES 1. theory justice JohnRawls. are a responseto the challenge presentedby two recent developments. Fraser makesit clear that her theoreticalbottom line is socialist feminism. in addressingmainstreamthinkers. See Okin(1989)fora recent feminist to into gender the widely attempt insert of liberal of discussed. AndreaNye The paperscollected in Feminism/Postmodemism.it offerspotential. and heterosexual as is the much indicted-masculineversion of humanism. REFERENCES Alan.
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