I‘ve recently been totally seduced by the idea of a MA in Media Studies at the New School, New York. I could ride a bike around Greenwich Village and make friends with Santogold and sit in the same cafes Allen Ginsberg did and go to Portland for the summer… that’s realistic, right? Anyway, I got onto the New School by researching Professor Nancy Fraser, whose latest piece in the New Left Review, Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History, has captured my little brian for some time now!
I know, I know, even the title is scary– after all, Fraser is an academic. Accessibility isn’t a priority for them. Nonetheless, her ideas are stimulating, and having spent a decent portion of last week decoding them, I think I’m ready to try and break it down. Wikiwiki.
The thrust of Fraser’s argument is that second-wave feminism (that’s the 1970s) may have implicitly contributed to her reading of the rise of “the new spirit of capitalism” ie. the romanticised unencumbered masculinity of team work and flexible networks as part of neoliberal labour management theories, as crystallized by Google. She finds proof for this by pointing to feminist campaigns (sex trafficking, unequal pay) which are widely recognised culturally, but are yet to to be realised through institutional change.
The article gives clues to Fraser’s overarching vision, which is essential to understanding her arguments — a place were participatory democracy is paramount, and where citzens are politically engaged both individually more importantly, collectively. Thus in looking at the second wave, which relied on a notion of “the personal being political”, Fraser’s essential problem appears to be that the fight against collective class based struggles played second fiddle — justice isn’t just about recognising issues, it’s about acting within a political economy to create equality.
Fraser takes issue with the spread of “depoliticized expertise” (throughout both profit and non-profit sectors) and technocratic managerial ethos which she says denies collective political justice. Where second wave feminists saw the welfare state as paternalistic, Fraser idealises the welfare state as a place where states are responsible for ensuring equality and practical justice can be achieved.
To illustrate her point, Fraser uses the example of microcredit. She argues that while NGOs have been busy doling out hundy dollar bills, state actors have been abandoning macro infrastructure projects like housing, “efforts that small scale lending cannot replace”.
Fraser argues, it is the state, not the market (certainly not a free one) which can provide a site for justice. In explaining the practical effects of the “new capitalism” on women, Fraser cites decreased job security, declining living standards, steep rise of hours worked (rise of the double, triple and quadruple shift) and a rise in female headed households as signifying this expanded neoliberal capitalism or disorganised capitalism; “disorganised capitalism turns a sow’s ear into a silk purse by elaborating a new romance of female advancement and gender justice.”
While stopping short of antagonising the work of second-wave feminists (she does not identify as one?), Fraser adopts a classic “I told you so” tone. Fortunately for those looking for more than just griping with the past, choices and necessary awarenesses for the future are also presented. Fraser asks that in rejecting neo-liberalism (here she points to Obama) feminism be re-positioned “squarely on the Left”.
Is she right? I dunno, part of me feels like she might be clinging to ideals so irrelevant not worth discussing, and part of me is really encouraged by collective direct action as seen in the G20 riots (do we want big government?). All of me is feeling like I know a bit more about feminism. Also what sane and reasonable people think about Obama —