Reading Guide to: Fraser, N  (1989)  Unruly Practices:  power discourse and agenda in contemporary social theory, Cambridge: Polity Press


Fraser is discussing whether intellectuals can or should be radicals as well, and announces her intention to interrogate some new theoretical movements. It is important not to reduce the intellectual and the activist to each other  [or to use one to hide behind when the failings of the other become apparent]. There are also dilemmas for activists who teach for a living and are therefore forced to adopt some kind of compromise. 

Foucault  can be seen as extending Marx and Weber into analysing the practices of the new middle classes, which informed Fraser's own work on social services. However, Foucault's politics remained mysterious -- although he was predicting a multiplication of the sites of power and struggle, he seemed indifferent to actual organised politics. For the deconstructionists, including Derrida, the problem was to define what could be seen as political: for Fraser, such a politics could only be an abstraction from any specific politics, although it remained a useful tool to criticise ideology. Turning to the American pragmatist tradition, including the work of Rorty, these offered good attacks on essentialism but were also profoundly anti-Marxist and celebratory of US society. This leads to problems of the relationship between theoretical work and politics, and raises questions such as whether you can adopt the philosophical work while rejecting the political.  [There is also a hint that the splits between the two might reflect some social division of labour between different types of intellectuals]. 

Fraser also gets close to the insistence in Critical Theory that we need both philosophical and empirical analysis. She wants to extend it to consider domestic and personal dimensions too.  She gets rather gramscian here, offering to see all aspects of life as contributing to hegemony, although she wants to include universities as well. Habermas tries to develop a theory with emancipatory intent, but this needs to be looked at from the perspective of political situatedness, not just metatheory, and the work on female emancipation is particularly useful. For example, it exposes the androcentricity of Habermas’s work with his old male-centred dichotomies like the ones between private and public. Habermas needs to learn the general lesson that these old dichotomies can conceal male power, and that they need to be made problematic. 

Finally, Fraser wants to examine both functionalist and/or dual systems theory in feminism. On the one hand, general theories run the risk of turning into functionalism, but there is a need to ask whether there really are two separate systems of oppression. She pursues this through an applied analysis of social welfare problems, and the 'institutionalised  patterns of interpretation' (9) that they embody  [discourses?]. This specific work is then generalised to discuss the role of the State, how it deals with struggles over needs, and how these needs are politicised. Fraser identifies three kinds of 'needs talk' or discourses here, [and seems to be operating with a kind of closure theory by showing how these discourses offer multiple dimensions which can be used in group formation]. There is a special role for expert discourses in uniting these groups, and a possible final mediating role of intellectuals. There are also fragmented audiences or 'publics' .There are costs in intellectual endeavours to build bridges between these hybrids, but few working political alternatives.

Chapter 1 Foucault on Modern Power: empirical insights and normative confusions

Foucault's contribution is to re-analyse the emergence of modern modalities of power. He has argued for the productive uses of power, its capillary nature, and the way it is diffused throughout social life rather than centred and located, say in a state apparatus. This rules out any simple revolutionary politics to capture the state, and suggests a widespread micropolitics instead. This analysis arises from the ability to suspend questions of legitimacy, however, in favour of a more technical analysis of how power works. This is also a difficulty, since Foucault wants to support emancipatory politics as well. Questions of legitimacy therefore have to be smuggled back in.

The genealogical method brackets the issue of legitimacy. Foucault is not interested in a structural analysis, because he wants to focus on practice, and he rejects hermeneutics in so far as it searches for the deeper meanings of historical developments. Practices are always contingent. He is not interested in the ideological content of practices, but analyses the processes in which discursive practices arise. He is particularly interested in discontinuities and incommensurabilities.  [note that links with Kuhn are acknowledged here, page 20]. Foucault wants to examine social and linguistic rules and constraints, and the procedures of power, leading to a 'holistic and historically relative study of the formation and functioning of incommensurable networks of social practices involving the mutual interrelationship of constraint and discourse'  (20). 

Other questions are bracketed in the development of the study, including questions of the ultimate truth of particular discourses. Is this because Foucault is committed to a cultural relativism? Is it merely an heuristic? Is Foucault against the liberal framework of analysis or against all such frameworks? Perhaps this is a methodological strategy only? If so, can one simply add a political dimension to it, or does Foucault try to demonstrate the real impossibilities of doing so?

We  are offered a concrete analysis of modern regimes of power/knowledge. This analysis is developed by examining disciplinary institutions and their microstrategies, which are later systematised. One example is the notion of 'the gaze' which emerged. It can be both synoptic and individualising, producing both wider surveillance and the development of new sciences. This notion is clearly used to show how particular techniques, including Freudian ones, can force people to reveal even their unconscious thoughts. This shows all the characteristics of modern power, as above, and demonstrates the tendency of such strategies to multiply the effects. The notion of the gaze is also the best example of how Foucault integrates both micro and macro levels  -- he uses it in the History of Sexuality, Volume 1, both to understand psychoanalytic practice and to trace the emergence of State discourses of sexuality, and the concept of 'bio - power'.  With the latter, Foucault advances an analysis which is similar to that of rationalisation, but unlike Weber, or Habermas, there is no normative comment on the spread of the gaze, which is treated as a neutral or universal instrument of domination.

One implication of this work is that we need to develop a detailed critique of 'bodies', rather than minds, that is of practices rather than beliefs, and to expect to find bio-power everywhere, not just monopolised by the State. In this sense, Foucault does offer a detailed politics of everyday life, partly helping to criticise liberalism: in the first place, there is no liberal 'free space'  left untouched by power, and in the second, liberal discourses have done much to extend bio-power into all spheres of life  [eg by attempting to help people with them with their difficulties or their sexuality]. Liberal concepts are useful in criticising repressive practices, but are themselves used in new forms of domination. So what alternative to liberal notions emerge?

Foucault has problems here. He often uses terms like 'carceral archipelago', to imply social criticism, and this has been used to develop a reading  [like some Marxist ones] that Foucault is opposing some global strategy out to discipline us. But how did this emerge? Fraser thinks this is a mistake and reading and so that Foucault has a much more neutral or descriptive intention, although he does hints at the links between disciplinary techniques and dominant groups, and he does support general struggle and resistance. If there is an alternative to liberalism in there, it is very unclear.

Perhaps it is that, like marxism, liberal conceptions are inevitably apparent at times, so that Foucault is able to argue that 'the gaze'  is still dominating, despite its liberating claims in social science.  There also seem to be Kantian objections to the treatment of people as instruments and objects in Discipline... However, Foucault also argues that the whole liberal framework itself is a matter of domination.

Overall, Fraser thinks this is indicative of naivety: Foucault thinks he has abolished the effects of norms in real life, because he has abolished them in thought! His method is selective, an isolation of the effects of particular liberal norms in particular practices, and not a realisation that the whole of language and practice embeds norms. [This is better realised in feminism].

There are other ambiguities too. For example, power may be productive in the cases he investigates, but is it always so? The stronger version in Foucault leads to rather banal conclusions -- that no action is possible without constraints, and thus constraints are necessary and 'positive'. Foucault argues as much in his analysis of discursive practices in the academic disciplines, but he also uses it when he discusses cases involving clear coercion -- is he arguing that these are also necessary and permanent?

Overall, too many things are called 'power'  (32). There are important political differences between normative constraints and actual coercion. Foucault really needs something like Weber to analyse different types of authority and legitimation. This absence and inability to distinguish between types of constraint has led his critics to accuse him of a whole scale rejection of modernity with no immediate alternative  (as Habermas does -- see below). Generally, Foucault is left oscillating awkwardly  between non-normative and condemnatory stances.

Chapter 2 Foucault as a 'Young Conservative'

This is Habermas's jibe that Foucault has simply offered a totalising and overdone critique of modernity. This cannot escape paradox, since some key notions of modernity are involved in the critique, and politically it offers an anti-modernism, a complete rejection of modernity rather than an attempt to solve its problems. 

Fraser admires this critique, but wants to modify it. Perhaps Foucault is not rejecting all of modernity and only one component -- humanism and its foundational claims. Even that needs some clarification, since Foucault may be offering a complete rejection of humanism, or just a strategic one. It is not clear, since Foucault conflates 'conceptual, strategic and normative arguments'  (37). The critics themselves vary in interpreting these ambiguities.

The first critic, David Hoy (1981), suggests that Foucault is not rejecting modernity, but simply objecting to the foundational claims of humanism. It is philosophy that is being rejected and not the entire value system. Foucault is offering the same kind of criticisms of Cartesian humanism as does Heidegger. For the latter, the notions of subject and object that we are familiar with are contingent, not universal, and are found in the modern epoch only. What is needed is an analysis of the unreflected background of these concepts, in Being itself. Foucault can be read as filling out this background via the notions of epistemes, or power/knowledge regimes. Archaeology and genealogy reveals this background, and enable us to criticise modern practices, based on the subject, as arbitrary even 'nasty'  (39). Heidegger was to argue that the notions of subject and object are dialectically linked: it is not enough to prioritise (modern) human subjectivity as a protest about the objectification of the world, since both are linked together. Instead, Heidegger wanted to rescue a better, fuller version of subjectivity.

 In the same way, Foucault sees humanism as a discourse which is able to recognise human beings as both the object of new human sciences, and also a subject to be disciplined. This is unstable. This point is pursued in The Order of Things, where we come across the notion of certain contradictions, or 'doubles'.

  • The 'transcendental/empirical double' sees Man as the very source of the constitution of the world and as an object just like the others in the world.

  • The 'cogito/unthought double'  sees Man as both determining and as determined -- his mission is to grasp in thought the factors that determine his fate, in order to be free.

  • The 'return - and - retreat - of - the - origin double' recognises that Man is both the beginning of history, yet is subject to a history outside himself  (40).

Humanism wants to let the 'good'  pole triumph, but this is self-defeating, and leads to domination. Foucault wants instead a whole new conception, a better and fuller one, to emerge. 

Discipline and Punish goes on to spell out the objectification of human beings. The History of Sexuality describes the equally problematic development of modern subjectivity. These themes are also pursued in the more 'applied' material, such as I, Pierre Riviere and Herculine Barbin, where personal accounts are contrasted to medical/scientific ones: the point is not to depose the objective accounts in the name of the subjective ones, but to show how the two are linked and equal, both generated by 'the discursive formation of modern humanism'  (41). In this way, we are trying to break out of the older terms (philosophical humanism) and to develop a fuller account, but still in the name of emancipation  (normative humanism). Foucault shows that it is perfectly possible to criticise modernism without any reference to human needs, autonomous subjectivity, or teleology, as in his work on prisons, while maintaining an emancipatory intent.

This is a familiar ploy in the general turn from humanism in philosophy and social thought, one followed by Althusser in marxism, and even Habermas in his linguistic turn. But there are still problems -- what is the basis of Foucault's critique exactly? Why aren't general emancipatory values as contingent as the others? Does Foucault offer a coherent alternative? Isn't humanism a better guide to emancipation in the long run?

The second critical reading suggests that the rejection of humanism is strategic. Humanism itself is read as a strategy to permit the criticism of pre-modern forms of domination, such as the feudal order. However, modern forms of domination soon emerged and spread, and these were not restrained by democratic demands for rights or autonomy. This tendency is best described in Discipline and Punish, with its analysis of sciences designed to investigate the very soul, and to generate behaviour- shaping regimes. Such sciences help to strengthen bourgeois norms in the end, showing that humanism is no defence against in and is in fact deeply implicated in modernised forms of oppression, and beset by 'doubling'. 

This view seems to be extrapolated from one case though (Discipline and Punish). The modern prison does offer an unusual combination of two kinds of self -- the self that is encouraged to reflect, and the self which has to be manipulated. This utilitarian version of humanism is indeed implicated with oppression, but this does not extend to all versions. For example, Habermas reworks notions of the self to suggest that a drive towards autonomy and emancipation is separated from strategic action, and can thus be used to criticise it. Genuinely autonomous reflection is likely to always be conflated with strategic action in total institutions, but only in them.  Habermas's approach is more systematic, and it also permits us to criticise modern forms of linguistic domination as well. 

Finally, to dispense with humanism altogether presupposes some empirical analysis to demonstrate that it is exhausted, or that all punitive regimes are equally  'bad'. 

The third form of criticism follows the view of Dreyfus and Rabinow  (1982) that Foucault offers a wholesale normative rejection of humanism.  They would also reject Habermas’s version too, on the grounds that even a fully autonomous subjectivity would still be a form of normalising discipline. This argument is seen best in Foucault's History of Sexuality, and his lecture Truth and Subjectivity. These pieces argue that modern subjectivity is both a construct and is used in domination. Subjectifying practices include self analysis and critical reflection, as in the analysis of the confessional. The actual examples do indeed involve asymmetric power between penitent and priest, or patient and psychoanalyst, but even if those power relations disappeared, oppression would remain. We would live in a normalising society, where we would all surveil and police ourselves. Even a full ideal speech act would be possible  [Habermas's notion of a linguistic democratic encounter where all the participants are able to question the validity claims of all other participants], although these would take place within the unexamined limits of fully internalised norms. In these circumstances, humanism would become the foundation of the fullest version yet of disciplinary power -- other regimes would be seen as oppressive only because a symmetric power was inefficient and partial.

Is it still possible to assert real autonomy as some kind of counterfactual  [Habermas’s notion that theoretical and utopian possibilities can be used to criticise existing 'facts']? Only if some other criteria are developed, moving beyond even agreement arising from an ideal speech act. An alternative would be to argue that a fully normalised society would be a genuine Utopia, reflecting a perfect harmony between autonomy and constraint, and offering genuinely emancipatory possibilities -- Foucault would have misled us by his suggestion that such a possibility would be contaminated by its unfortunate antecedents, and by his smuggling in criticism alluding to inauthenticity. 

However, Foucault [and Habermas] need some additional ethical paradigm to judge what is an emancipatory society. Foucault hints that the pursuit of bodily pleasures might offer better guidance than the notion of autonomy,  but there is little justification, and at least Habermas is more explicit. However, empirical analysis is lacking in both. The best place to find this missing dimension is in modern feminism, [summarised by Fraser pages 51- 2], which is both interdisciplinary and critical in its attempts to establish whether 'autonomy' is genuine, or just another form of male domination. Some feminists believe, for example, that the notion of autonomy requires supplementation by feminine values of 'care and relatedness'. Others acknowledged the split between male and female versions of the relations between autonomy, the public/private split and so on. These are important aspects to the debate and should help us with the Foucault/Habermas controversy. Until then it is important to remember that 'not all quarters have been heard from'  (52).

Chapter 3 Foucault's Body Language: A Posthumanist Political Rhetoric

This chapter explores Foucault's rejection of subjectivity and explores any alternatives.

It is worth pointing out however that Foucault sees the dangers in suggesting a completely worked-out alternative which might offer a new total isolation, a view shared by Critical Theory. He does advocate at least a critical rhetoric, though, that is one without any normative or foundation claims. This can be detected in various 'transgressive'  sections. It is also the case that humanism can still be detected in his work, eg it is implicit in Discipline and Punish to explain his obvious revulsion for docile bodies.  Foucault knows that working with these old concepts is inevitable, but insists that he does so without illusions. He says for example that the notion of 'rights'  is mystificatory: it is either anachronistic, rooted in earlier epochs before the advent of modern power, or if used in its contemporary sense, it is implicated with discipline. Either way it permits a legitimation of the present.

Thus only a future rhetoric can really break with these conceptions. We can only support a multiplicity of resistances, and a 'politics of negation'  (59). His own possible position turns on a metaphysics of bodies. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, ends with an appeal to celebrate bodies and pleasure. This is to be contrasted with celebrating 'sex', which is already deeply implicated in a power regime. It is a modern construct, jamming together biological, political and social elements, and posing as some universal and non-social element. Appealing to the liberating possibilities of sexuality only reproduces this dubious construct and delivers us back to foundationalism and power. 

How can bodies and their pleasures avoid this too? His Foucault suggesting that bodies are somehow transcendent objects, beyond discourse? If so, this is a new foundationalism. Foucault denies this and says that bodies are also historically constructed --  the tortured body, the docile body and so on. Yet he also talks about 'the Body'. Is there some common quality to the historical constructions, or is this a pragmatic, contingent connection? 

Is such a 'body language' better than a 'rights language'  as a politics anyway? Even if 'rights' are compromised, there is still emancipatory potential in them, they are still useful to fight limited battles, eg for recognition of minorities, and so there might be some future potential too. 'Rights language' is compromised, but it is the only language available at present [ and Fraser wants to demonstrate its residual power below].

'Body language' may not be implicated in oppression at present, but neither were any of the other candidates once -- why should this one remain so emancipatory?  It might be useful tactically at present to help us oppose the emphasis on ideas and consciousness, but is it useful in real urgent contemporary struggles, such as ecological ones? Foucault's conception of bodily pleasure can look similar at times to the utilitarian precept that we should pursue pleasure. Bodies are already marked by discipline for Fraser -- hence paradoxes like sado-masochism as a form of excess and as a form of discipline. Body language seems as compromisable as any other language! Is it really any more powerful to say that prisons constrain bodies or that they infringe rights?  The pursuit of transgression and excess seemed likely to 'lack genuine political seriousness, to be wanting in the theoretical, lexical, and critical resources necessary to sustain a viable political vision'  (64). 

Foucault therefore faces problems, although he has done well to expose the flaws of humanist rhetoric. He can be personally forgiven for his lapses because of the insights and shocks he delivers -- he is a thrilling 'lover' even if not a very good 'husband'.[sic] (65)

Chapter 4  The French Derrideans: politicising deconstruction and deconstructing the political   

[NB, This first appeared in a marvellously fertile special edition of New German Critique, Fall, 1984. The special was about French postmodern theory. Contributors include Habermas, Ben-Habib and the excellent Sloterdijk. Get hold of it if you can]

This chapter summarises a conference held in France in 1980 which focused particularly on the political aspects of deconstruction. These political aspects have long been in dispute, since Derrida himself has either avoided the topic of politics or postponed it. However, as with Foucault some issues a rise, for example whether this is a a political process or whether it offers to deconstruct all politics. Indeed, a whole Centre for Philosophical Research on the Political was established to pursue these questions are. So far, the Centre has been suspicious of the tendency to politicise deconstruction. At the original conference two main opposing positions became clear, one suggesting that deconstruction could be turned into a politics, and the other proposing the exact opposite. 

The 'left  gesture' draws on Derrida's 1968 essay, which was taken as central by no less than Spivak. She argues that deconstruction demands a radical shake-up from the outside, which forces a confrontation ('linguistic... or ethnological, economic, political, or military') of Western culture with its repressed others -- women, non-Western societies, and all the victims of capitalism. It is possible to re introduce the political economic discourse as central to deconstruction, reinstating Marx as an early deconstructor, and arguing that the most important political lesson from Derrida is not to exclude the other or the outside  (including political economy). Responses to this argument included a need to deconstruct Marxist views of labour as some semi-divine power, and as the origin of social life.

The opposite view was produced by a French philosopher Rogozinski. This sites Derrida's denial of Marx's claim to have radically broken with ideology, coupled with the suggestion that apparent breaks often reproduce the original system. Instead , deconstruction offers a better alternative, of constant vigilance, patient work and endurance. Revolutionary politics are always metaphysical, involving an 'assertion of the absolute, abstract freedom of unmediated self consciousness'  (73). Hegel wanted to assert the continuities, the overcomings of cyclical change instead, the preservation of différance  (sic -- meaning the preservation of important social and civil differences and the deferring of any absolute judgments). These trends are preserved in deconstruction, which patiently tries to preserve differences in the face of revolutionary claims to abolish them once and for all. This produces a politics of local resistances. However, there is some other even more radical rupture promised by deconstruction, into some space beyond all existing metaphysics, some completely new ultra radical politics. Deconstruction 'slides incessantly -- strategically, it would claim'  (74) between these two 

Responses to this position including some from Derrida himself. Although he accepted much of Rogozinski's argument, he did not wish to join the anti-Marxist group. He was against revolution as a metaphysical concept but did not wish to devalue it as a political force, not wishing to split the Left. He claimed this was a new complex strategy, remaining silent about marxism rather than attacking it like all the other positions of 'theoretical comfort' [This long silence was eventually broken -- see Derrida on Marx here).

However, the main argument was to refuse such a choice, to go for some deeper analysis in order to interrogate both positions. This is very much in the spirit of an earlier debate about Derrida and that the implicit ethics in his version of deconstruction. A dilemma arises again because if ethics is some kind of demand for the practical implementation of a philosophy, it must be metaphysical, and the demand for it needs to be rebuffed and questioned. This argument can be applied to politics -- we need to deconstruct the very notion of the political, rather than attempting to implement deconstruction, somehow, as a political theory. Of course, there are still problems in deciding what is or is not 'politics'. Until we do decide, deconstruction itself might still be ‘political’. Derrida is unclear himself here, arguing that we must bracket politics on the one hand, but trying to maintain the traditional significance of philosophy as somehow political itself. 

The danger of this, [what might be called an 'extended', or 'elaborated' expansion of the political, found equally in gramscian thought] is that the specific notion of the political disappears, only encouraging the already dangerous tendency for everything to become mere administration. Perhaps there should be an equal retreat of the politics in Derrida's writing ( a philosophical retreat, that is, not a mere running away)? Certainly, it should avoid the 'intimidation' of the political as in committed marxism. Instead that dominance needs to be interrogated itself. The Conference proposed a whole new Centre for Philosophical Research on the Political to do so! One key distinction that emerged soon turned on the differences between an interest in 'the political' in general ( le politique), and specific political positions ( la politique) - partly this enabled some truce to be drawn between those present with different specific interests, perhaps?

The opening document presented at the Centre restates the difficulties. The philosophical and the political cannot easily be separated, so it is not easy to see how one can be used to interrogate the other. The task instead is to ask how everything, including philosophy, is now held to be 'political', how all life goes on in the 'closure of the political'.(78) Implications here include a certain suspicion of the ways in which demands for transparency and emancipation have led instead to totalitarianism, and, more abstractly, the way in which philosophy is undermining the political itself in its (e.g. 'nihilist') struggle to overcome metaphysics. Similar dilemmas arise with attempts to trace the retreat from or engagement with the political -- is it possible to question the political without taking a political position oneself? It would be naive to assume that research on the political would not have political consequences of its own. 

It was felt that deconstruction ought to engage with marxism rather than just keeping silent on it tactically, and to pursue classic problems such as the role of the political in Marx, and the need to rethink the political, perhaps as 'rebellious subjectivity'.  This leads to a wider conception of politics, involving rethinking the notion of the 'social bond', the Other, and, as in classical deconstruction, the Otherness repressed in the concept of the political  (one model here turns on the structured and inevitable  symbolic dominance by fathers as in Freudianism). Other topics include what  'recedes' when the political is installed and the social bond fabricated, and what we should do instead of just describing social origins of the social bond. [Classic Derridean concepts like 'the trace' are implied here, says Fraser, p 81]

Fraser says this approach is  following, rightly enough, the rejection of the alternatives for politics outlined earlier (Spivak and Rogozinski and including Derrida's own 'tactical silence'). But this rejection is still strangely abstract, not a political argument but a retreat into philosophy -- 'there is one form of difference that deconstruction cannot tolerate: namely difference as dispute, as good old-fashioned political fight' (82).The whole thing represents a  a 'dialectic of aborted desire' ( 82),  a desire to be engaged while being somehow forbidden by your own concepts  [this is common to a number of leftist intellectuals, of course]. The Center's programme never really developed, somewhat predictably, and it was itself criticised as idealist. 

However some fascinating papers were produced, such as those on totalitarianism and democracy. These included discussions of two kinds of totalitarianism, one referring to a saturation of social life by the political, and the other referring to the older themes about totalitarianism as a response to democratic crisis and the decline of the public sphere. This analysis led in its turn to an 'attempt at a mad, frenzied resubstantialism and reincarnation of the political body', and discussion of various softer alternatives to  do this within existing democracy  (through plebiscites, for example). If there is a generalisation of authority and a loss of liberty, the notion of a transcendent public sphere is now dissolved, leading to a need to re-form new ones which are not authoritarian. 

This is another cop-out, according to Fraser, which lacks any analysis of why politics is like this and whether it might be linked to certain social changes. The discussion is also less on reforming the social bond, and more about trying to return to what recedes. It lacks a discussion of what functions to maintain the social bond now, given that it is no longer just about the exchange of needs, but more about the quality of life. There is some underlying hope that it somehow will be possible to do politics, however, another of these oscillations between reflection and action. This haunts some of the material on hard and soft totalitarianism, for example -- this discussion is inevitably normative, with empirical and critical bits and involves an inevitable political dialogue with one's opponents --  but the analysts tended to retreat back into speculation instead. Speculation is ‘not  in itself useless or irrelevant... [but it can be used tactically by intellectuals]... as a means of avoiding the step into politics to which  [they feel driven]' (86). Similar considerations apply  to the calls for new social bonds, or discussions on the quality of life.

In this way, the whole project seems unstable -- it is 'only a temporary waystation on the exodus from Marxism now being traveled by the French intelligentsia' (82)..  Either deconstructionists exclude politics altogether, and lose a major source of importance for  philosophical work, or they are forced to get into politics, which involves unwelcome empirical and normative analysis, contestation  [and issues of empirical validity?].  It is an important project though in raising questions like how to revive the public sphere, how to pursue a non-strategic rationality, how to preserve diversity and how to maintain the specificity yet effectiveness of the political. To make progress, it should link with feminist reworkings of post Marxist politics. Feminism is engaged and reflexive, it is nontranscendental because it incorporates empirical and normative elements into philosophy, and it has produced a whole new agenda of the political and  familial. 

In a post script, Fraser notes that the Centre was eventually suspended, because the issues had become too condensed and 'practical'. Discussion had been colonised by some neo-liberal rejection of marxism and critique. The response of the deconstructionists was a typical one -- they objected to the intrusion of specific politics into transcendental analysis, and seemed incapable of doing politics back, to preserve their own Centre. They seemed to want to let the bad guys do the specific politics! Their own position towards neo-liberalism was ambiguous any way, since both were suspicious about ‘the political’ and ‘the social’. Where they did oppose neo-liberalism it was to protest about the hijacking of the notion of totalitarianism to mean just those regimes in the former Eastern Europe -- here, they came close to demanding empirical complexity after all, and not resorting to just transcendental analysis! This may be a typical fate for all post-modern French intellectuals, Fraser thinks, to move from an anti-Marxist position straight into neo-liberalism, instead of moving into the new emerging alliances of critical theory or feminism.

Chapter 5 

I am not offering detailed notes on this chapter, which is a discussion of the work of the American philosopher Rorty. Fraser does her usual excellent job on exposing the strange abstractions in the work, and ends by criticising him for offering a highly limited form of pragmatism. Because this is not well thought out, it delivers Rorty back into the hands of American ideology, where somehow American society claims to be the embodiment of such pragmatism  [this is a criticism classically made of earlier pragmatists such as Dewey]. Fraser suggests what we need is what might be called 'real'  pragmatism, a determination to worry away at serious forms of political discrimination, with a discussion of values well to the fore. In the list of principles to guide us, Fraser includes the well-known gramscian quote which recommends 'pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will'  (108).

Chapter 6 Habermas and gender

 Fraser begins with Marx's insistence that a critical social theory should address the important political issues of the day, and asks why no particular attention to feminism is paid in Habermas's work. In some of the work, there is a kind of implicit notion of patriarchy, and Habermas has declared his sympathy -- but otherwise, there is a silence. The task therefore is to re-read some of the material, especially that in Theory of Communicative Action, in order to release the implicit discussion, but then to go beyond Habermas's concepts.

We might begin with the distinction between symbolic and material reproduction in Habermas. Symbolic reproduction involves the socialisation of newcomers, the development of group solidarities and cultural traditions.  It is necessary to explore this to add it to the basic Marxist account of the reproduction of the material dimension. Fraser argues that the distinction between the symbolic and the material is based on the notion of their relative functions, and yields problems right away, as soon as one discusses women's work. When women undertake paid labour, their work seems to belong to the sphere of material reproduction, and when they do unpaid work in families, that clearly lies in the symbolic. But why are there are two kinds peculiarly for women, and how might the unity of these two be explained? Habermas offers two sorts of explanation -- one implies that the division between symbolic and material is somehow natural, as in functionalism; the other suggests that the distinction is useful only for analytic purposes. 

However, neither explanation is capable of explaining the peculiar duality of women's work. For example, child rearing is not only positively functional  (one advantage of Habermas's distinction), it also has important implications in the material sphere too, in producing suitable kinds of labourers. Similarly, women's paid work cannot be separated from the reproduction of social ideologies about women -- so much paid labour for women is also clearly  gendered or even sexualised (women are concentrated in the caring, domesticated occupations, or in the sex industry). We are entitled to ask what purposes are served by this apparently strong distinction then? Habermas himself may be sympathetic to feminism, but his distinction is commonly used in patriarchal conceptions, to somehow naturalise female subordination.

Let us take another distinction, between social integration and system integration. Habermas tells us that the first form relies on symbolic and partly consensual forms of integration, while the second one is co-ordinated more by functional and utilitarian considerations. Again, there are problems with this distinction. Languages clearly involved in both, leaving the key differences turning on 'consensuality, normativity, and strategicality'  (117). The distinction is used too abstractly here, implying that Habermas sees no strategic interest in the social sphere at all, and no consensual elements in the system dimension. However, Fraser argues that there is nearly always some kind of consensus and back ground agreement on norms, even in the labour market, and lots of signs of strategy in culture [her example here is the strategic element of the well-known 'gift relationship' -- giving someone a gift also places them under an obligation to reciprocate, and this can be used to reinforce the giver's status or power]. Again, Habermas is in dubious company by insisting on these as absolute distinctions, since patriarchy does the same, for example in operating with an ideological separation of the family as some separate sphere, some universal 'haven in a heartless world'  (118) [This is how men might see it, of course, but women have to labour in order to make the family a haven].

Habermas actually uses these distinctions to develop a theory of modernisation as the gradual separation of these two functions. The integration mechanisms become specialised too -- the private/family dimension become separated from the public/polity dimension, the former operating in the 'lifeworld', the latter in the system.  Thus Habermas argues for a split within both system and life world as well as one between them. However, so far this merely 'faithfully mirrors the institutional separation in male-dominated capitalist societies of family and official economy, household and paid work place'  (119). He exaggerates the differences between the dimensions, as above, and fails to explain the ghettoisation of women in 'distinctively feminine, service orientated and often sexualised occupations'  (119), and therefore ignores male domination in both areas  [or rather in all four separate dimensions]. Habermas's  approach tends to support the modern nuclear family, while ignoring its real economic functions, and the 'thorough permeation of money and power', and the widespread nature of 'calculation, coercion and violence' inside the family itself  (120)

Habermas tries to predict this kind of consequence with his notion of 'colonisation'  [of the life world by system imperatives and integration mechanisms]. This helps him to grasp some aspects of male dominance. His work also provides useful differences between types of consensus, according to whether this is a fully 'normative'  (unconscious, unreflected), or ‘communicative’  (explicit, reflected). He does criticise families for offering  the former kind of consensus, and this does fit some empirical work on how men actually persuade women to comply, for example via conversational domination  (120). But this is still not adequate to explain the types of power used in families, and still lacks specificity too. One obvious omission is that of economic aspects of male coercion of women in families, another consequence of not realising the economic functions of the institution.

More generally, Habermas predicts crisis in modernity, because the effective reproduction of the lifeworld is endangered by colonisation  [it requires genuine forms of communication, rather than the work of specialist strategic institutions] also runs ideological risks: the same kind of argument is used to deny a women's rights to paid work as endangering the life world. System complexity is a good feature of modernity for Habermas, leading to a plea to leave the life world separate from the system, but this defence of the separation of spheres is also a  ‘linchpin of modern women's subordination'  (122).  Socialist reform to re-establish control over the system would not touch this aspect of subordination. Habermas's work, by assuming that families are essential for a child rearing, is therefore both 'androcentric and ideological'  (122).The critical potential of this work is apparent, but he needs to focus much more on gender. 

The colonisation of the life world proceeds with capitalism, and this is not just a simple public/private merger -- as we have seen, there are further couplets, so that the state is separated from the economy in the system dimension, and the family from the political in the life world. These areas are subsequently linked by a number of roles which actual individuals play -- they are workers/consumers, and citizens/clients. However, again, Habermas ignores the fact that these key roles are gendered, and that gendering is a major theme in the mechanisms of linkage and co-ordination. For example, the role of worker has long been tied together with masculinity, as seen in lots of arguments about the psychological effects of unemployment, or the need for a 'family wage'. Women's work rarely escapes gendering, either by the ghettoising we have mentioned above, or by the persistence in seeing it as part time or as aimed at merely 'supplemental earnings'  (125). The consumer, by contrast, is nearly always female, and in this realm, men feel awkward and displaced. There is no discussion of the key role of childrearer and its connections to gender. The citizen role is also gendered, with a long history of believing that the capacities for consent and discussion are confined to the men. There still are legal differences in the treatment of men and women, which commonly reveal that male discourse is somehow privileged. Finally, the soldier role is ignored, and this is another clearly gendered role, where men are seen as the protectors of civil liberties and so on. There are also key additional linking mechanisms between the areas which are clearly united by gender, such as the 'masculine citizen - soldier – protector’  (127) which runs through discussions of the state, polity, family and economy. The same applies with the 'female child bearer role'. The examples like this, male domination becomes crucial to the development of classical capitalism, rather than being seen as some unfortunate pre-modern legacy which lingers  [which is the classic functionalist way to understand it). We need to regender and flesh out what seemed to be separate economic concepts so they become 'gender - economic', and 'gender - political'.  The whole analysis shows how apparently separate dimensions are really interconnected, and this helps us avoid prioritising particular areas for political action, say the economic rather than the family: instead, reneged thorough transformation of or understanding of political radicalism. 

Turning to the case-study of welfare-state capitalism, Habermas’s analysis here needs more than just restoring some notion of unthematised gender  (page 129). In essence, Habermas's argument is:

(a) That welfare capitalism emerges from crises in classical capitalism, so that welfare measures, and Keynesian economics, help to regulate markets. Fraser has no objection to this argument.

(b)  That there has been an increase in private consumption, to compensate for the dissatisfactions of work, and a decline in active citizenship in favour of more passive forms. Citizens increasingly come into contact with welfare institutions as clients. Fraser argues that Habermas fails to see the gender subtext here, and means to be reminded that most clients are female, that most welfare programmes are gendered, and that women tend to be worse treated,  (for example, being accused of running 'failed families').  What Habermas is describing here is not just the expansion of system requirements, but the emergence of a new form of public patriarchy, a shift in forms of male oppression and regulation as the system moves  towards modernity.

(c)  There have been some gains, such as new social rights, but the move towards bureaucratic colonisation disempowers citizens. Fraser again insists that this impacts differently on women, so that they may have escaped private patriarchy politicising their rights, only to be delivered into public patriarchy.

(d)  That there is a continued intrusion into the 'core [lifeworld] domains' of care and education, and this has pathological effects on the life world, with far worse consequences than say the changes in work. Fraser argues that it is patriarchy that is served by this intrusion, which relies increasingly on false separations between system and life world, and a false emphasis on the centrality of care and education as being particularly relevant.

(e)  There has been an 'inner colonisation', the life world has been subordinated to a practice of reification affecting communities and their values, and that this will inevitably produce new social crises. Fraser insists that this depends on a false separation, as we have seen, and an 'assumed virginity of the domestic sphere'  (133). It also ignores movements from the life world to the system level, easily seen by restoring gender, such as the feminisation of welfare clients. Value orientations have been changed rather than abandoned or colonised: the impact has been greatest on women who have had their lives bureaucratised in the interests of patriarchy as well as modernity.

(f)  New conflicts arise, in the form of new social movements on the margins of the system and life world. The political contest for about colonisation rather than distribution or equality as such. The most promising new social movements attempted the colonise, and restore communicative contexts, leading to new democratic institutions to regulate the system. Less promising movements are reactionary, such as those offering  religious fundamentalism, or retreatist, trying to withdraw altogether in the interests of peace and ecology, say. Feminist new social movements are among the promising ones, although they are sometimes particularistic and retreatist. Fraser comments that feminism does not just arise from some one-directional colonisation, and points to a number of specific contests over apparently unproblematic roles like worker, consumer, client and citizen. All these are gendered. All offer acute new forms of domination of women, but they are also contradictory in terms of offering new public rights, and have sometimes helped women resist. Feminists have done much to allow values to '[emerge] into visibility'  (134), quite the opposite of an apparent decline in values.  For Fraser, the only point of feminism is to replace hierarchy with democratic systems, and she argues that decolonisation is not the only route: the system itself needs to be democratised. As the feminist movement shows, new social movements can also struggle with each other over differences in  perceived social needs  [see below]. The contradictions which face women have led to both feminist and anti-feminist struggles among them. Feminist struggle has to operate at a deeper level than other struggles, since it wishes to reclaim discursive resources too  [see below]. Habermas's criticism of particularism and retreatism is also misguided, since these are often essential temporary retreat, and women are right to claim that they have particular substantive issues which concern them, including struggles over the regulation of their bodies. It is rarely the case that new social movements can be immediately universalistic: as feminism shows, they often have to counter a dominant particularism first.

In summary, what emerges is a radical questioning of the roles of citizen, clients, and 'rights'. Habermas bypasses these and underestimates the feminist challenge. This floor is traceable ultimately to a phoney binary system/lifeworld distinction. This is androcentric: what we need is a framework that sees the links between the areas, such as those between a male-dominated family and a male dominated State, one that stays alert to the multi-dimensional aspects of oppression and the tendency of old norms to persist. Finally, we need a politics that focuses on domination rather than colonisation.

Chapter 7 Women, Welfare and Politics

Welfare and poverty has become increasingly feminised  [Fraser's examples relate to the USA, although obviously there is a wider application]. The system for distributing aid only institutionalises female dependency, another example of public patriarchy. What is at stake is who defines needs. The definitions of the State are largely unquestioned at present, but the whole area needs to be politicised. 

A public patriarchy works at both the structural/economic level and ideological levels. For example, US 'work force' programmes helped to institutionalise low paid work for women, and help to interpret or construct their needs. In this way, the welfare system works as one of those compound concepts, a 'juridical - administrative - therapeutic state apparatus (JAT)’  (146). The process operates initially by the State marking off areas as its proper concern, dividing these from private concerns. The impact of these divisions applied to men as well, but a more modernised version involve the construction of people as 'clients''. These are largely women. Women work in the Welfare State, benefit from it, are at the leading edge of State intervention into care, Welfare, and the domestic area -- for example, women commonly look after their aged relatives 'privately', and it is only where there are no female private carers that both State tends to intervene.  

The whole process is based on some assumed fixed sexual division of labour, where families have one primary male breadwinner, and one unpaid female domestic worker. In fact, only 15 per cent of actual US families are like this, though.  Additional assumptions include the view that family life has 'failed' if there is no male  [enshrined in US policy, apparently]. In these circumstances, the basis of women's claims to welfare turn on their status as homemakers, rather than workers.  In specifically work-related programmes, such as unemployment insurance, there are very different assumptions, however. Here the basis of the claim is that the claimant is an individual worker [ no longer as a family member]. Many women are therefore ineligible as individual claimants, and there are important differences in the ways in which payments are made – far less surveillance and control of the claimants in work-related programmes for example.

Chapter 7 Women, Welfare and Politics

Welfare and poverty has become increasingly feminised  [Fraser's examples relate to the USA, although obviously there is a wider application]. The system for distributing aid only institutionalises female dependency, another example of public patriarchy. What is at stake is who defines needs. The definitions of the State are largely unquestioned at present, but the whole area needs to be politicised.

A public patriarchy works at both the structural/economic level and ideological levels. For example, US 'work force' programmes helped to institutionalise low paid work for women, and help to interpret or construct their needs. In this way, the welfare system works as one of those compound concepts, a 'juridical - administrative - therapeutic state apparatus (JAT)’  (146). The process operates initially by the State marking off areas as its proper concern, dividing these from private concerns. The impact of these divisions applied to men as well, but a more modernised version involve the construction of people as 'clients''. These are largely women. Women work in the Welfare State, benefit from it, are at the leading edge of State intervention into care, Welfare, and the domestic area -- for example, women commonly look after their aged relatives 'privately', and it is only where there are no female private carers that both State tends to intervene.  

The whole process is based on some assumed fixed sexual division of labour, where families have one primary male breadwinner, and one unpaid female domestic worker. In fact, only 15 per cent of actual US families are like this, though.  Additional assumptions include the view that family life has 'failed' if there is no male  [enshrined in US policy, apparently]. In these circumstances, the basis of women's claims to welfare turn on their status as homemakers, rather than workers.  In specifically work-related programmes, such as unemployment insurance, there are very different assumptions, however. Here the basis of the claim is that the claimant is a worker. Many women are therefore ineligible as individual claimants, and there are important differences in the ways in which payments are made – far less surveillance and control of the claimants for example welfare recipients are much more regulated, and often demonised or patronised: they are often given payments in kind, and treated less than a full citizen  [compare this with the notion of the 'undeserving poor'  in the UK, who typically include demonised groups such as feckless teenage single mothers].  People from ethnic minorities are treated in this way too. 

The ambiguity of State 'gifts'  is therefore very clear. However, there is some resistance from clients as well, such as the unofficial practices of sharing out state benefits beyond single households, which would technically disqualify the claimants. 

These  patterns clearly indicate the results of different interpretations of need which have become reified. The politics of need are particularly well disguised by a combination of juridical, administrative, and therapeutic apparatuses which appear to have replaced politics. This is so especially in the therapeutic areas, which claimed to be about remedying personal problems, but which are really regulatory  [borrowed from Foucault here?] These practices disempower men as well, but differently. They operate on the basis that people are best considered as individual 'cases' rather than collective groups  [compare this with the controversy over the Connections policy in the UK which offers individual young people their own counsellor to link them to the various welfare and work agencies]. The issue of the definition of needs is concealed, and needs are seen as administrative matters monologically defined, rather than as dialogical and participatory (156). 

What  is needed instead is a critical version of social structures as 'institutionalised patterns of interpretation'  [of needs]  (156). We also need to re conceptualise the sphere of operations such as the workings of the JAT. There is an now an emergent 'social'  area -- 'a site of discourse about people's needs, specifically about those needs that have broken out of the domestic and/or official economy spheres that earlier contained them as  "private matters"'.  (156). Here, there is a contest between 'expert'  and 'oppositional movements' discourses about needs and social identities. The social is not just dominated by the JAT, since the operation of this apparatus often politicise his people as an unintended consequence  [as in claimants' unions?]. However, mostly, new social movements are contained. Nevertheless, feminist opposition has developed over the male definitions of needs, over demands for empowerment, and over the introduction of policies specifically related to women. Once more, feminism leads the way, well away from demands for the mere satisfaction of needs.

Chapter 8  Struggles Over Needs: Outline of a Socialist - Feminist Critical Theory of Late Capitalist Political Culture 

Current debates about how to satisfy real needs offers a suitable idiom for political conflict. The concept of needs is often juxtaposed with concepts of rights and interests -- what are the political advantages of discourses about needs? 

The  notion that we should meet people's basic needs is uncontroversial, but invariably the demands extend to include 'thicker'  needs. Thus a demand for adequate shelter least to discussions about the relative merits of permanent housing, low rents, tax incentives to landlords and so on. It is these thick need clusters which are especially promising in terms of political contestation. Demands here are often met by strategies which include the denial of the political nature of need, attempts to reinterpret needs, and struggles to satisfy immediate needs [only].

Contesting groups have different interpretative and communicative resources, including official idioms, vocabularies, 'paradigms of argumentation'  (165), narrative conventions, and modes of subjectification  (the construction of a subject, as 'normal', or as a 'victim' and so on). Strategic argument often include possible alternatives already, the better to deal with them: they are 'internally dialogized'  (165).  Local resources, these discursive resources are clustered and stratified. In particular, some become official discourses, while others are 'enclaved as sociocultural sociolects'  (165).

There are new shifts in the boundaries between the political, economic and domestic, and this helps some discourses become ‘official politics’, while others are merely politicised  [a reference back to one of the distinctions in Derrida -- see above]. Processes of politicisation escalate as the issues spread across different 'publics', which are more important in political terms than the usual social groups based on class, culture, interests or gender. These publics join in hegemonic blocs  (167).

Some  institutions attempt to depoliticise issues by trying to enclave them back into separated economic or domestic areas, avoiding a generalised contestation  [Fraser seems to rely on this is the major political strategy of depoliticisastion, but there are clearly others, some of which been hinted at, such as using experts to erect a camouflaging 'technical veil', a major strategy identified by Marcuse]. This splitting strategy both reveals male dominance and attempts to naturalise it, as a merely domestic matter, for example. Issues can be repoliticised, by breaking out of these compartments, and this is where the notion of thick needs becomes important -- needs escalate and become generalised. ‘Private’ matters leak into the social area, as explained above, and once there, it becomes possible to form alliances, or begin to attract the attention of the State, a route into official politics. 

There seem to be three types of needs discourses active at the moment: 

(a) oppositional, built from below, and taking the form of new social movements; 

(b)  reprivatisation, as a response to this  [Fraser refers to CCCS work on Thatcherism as authoritarian populism here] ; 

(c)  expert discourses which attempt to link popular movements to State politics, or to alternatives such as new forms of community. There is a struggle for hegemony between these discourses, and experts play a crucial role. Expert discourses are sometimes very esoteric, but occasionally also available to the public, and sometimes even used by oppositional groups -- their normal role is to depoliticise, however, as in the JAT.

Cycles of politicisation and depoliticisation arise. For example, feminists have done much to politicise 'domestic violence'  as an emergent and complex social and legal problem. Then organisations for battered women became municipally funded, bringing in a new administrative phase, the professionalisation of workers in those organisations, and a move to therapy rather than politics.  Some networks have resisted, as in the communities sharing welfare benefits mentioned above. Some individuals managed to resist as well  [a very good example on page 179 shows how young pregnant women are able to resist the therapeutic regime and to substitute their own personal accounts for psychiatric ones. For example, they demanded equally 'personal questioning'  back at the psychiatric social workers]. Sometimes resistance arises from clients meeting each other in waiting rooms, and realising they have a common interest. 

Feminists should worry about these depoliticising trends. For example intellectually fashionable relativism can depoliticise, and raise problems for political solidarity. Fraser prefers instead to use relativist arguments to demand justification of policies, and ask questions like how inclusive and democratic means discourses actually are, and what consequences they have  (transgressive or conforming). Needs discourses should not be seen as a rival to rights discourses: demands for needs being met can lead to demands for rights, but the problem is which rights again. Fraser thinks that demands for rights can be merely liberal and formal, but suggests the effort should be made to transform them into substantive demands. Above all, what we need is an open contestation of needs talk, and a firm intention to head for emancipatory outcomes.


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Dreyfus H and Rabinow P (1982) Michel Foucault: beyond structuralism and hermeneutics, Chicago: Chicago Press