Nancy Fraser, Marina Liakova
"Emancipation is not an all or nothing affair"
Interview with Nancy Fraser
Feminist critical theorist Nancy Fraser outlines in interview her concept of "parity of participation", or the representation of women in institutional structures. The concept, she argues, bridged the traditional leftwing theoretical dichotomy between distribution and recognition and in turn raises the question: who determines who is to be represented? Here Fraser emphasizes the centrality of the politics of interpretation in any dialogue about justice, such as that between western feminism and Islam.
Marina Liakova: An important theme in your writing is the concept of justice. You argue that the main problem of justice is recognition and protection of identities from cultural domination. Could you give a brief definition of justice – does it represent only a lack of domination? And taking this further, is the struggle of modern women for recognition successful and what other accents could you pinpoint?
Nancy Fraser: My own particular view of justice is a highly demanding view. My idea is that the justice requires social arrangements that permit all members to participate in social interaction on a par with one another. So that means they must be able to participate as peers in all the major forms of social interaction: whether it's politics, whether it's the labour market, whether it's family life and so on. And parity of participation is quite demanding. It is not enough that there be simply the absence of legal discrimination; it means that you have all the effective conditions for really being able to participate. So I guess it depends on how you define "domination". If you treat "domination" as the existence of systemic institutionalized obstacles of participation, that would mean that justice requires the overcoming of those obstacles. If you define "domination" in some more minimal way, it would require more than that. That's really a matter of definition. But the most important thing for me is that there should be no institutionalized obstacles that prevent anyone from being a full participant in social life.
Is the struggle of modern women for recognition successful? If you accept my definition of justice then the next thing you have to do is ask about what kinds of things can function as obstacles to parity of participation. And this is where the idea of recognition comes in. With respect to gender in particular, modern societies, probably all known societies, have institutionalized a status hierarchy between men and women in which there are clausal norms that value traits associated with "men" or "masculinity" above traits associated with "women" or "femininity". And because these are norms that are not just in people's head but actually institutionalized in a social arrangements, the result is that women are impeded or blocked from full participation on the same terms with men. For example, women cannot today participate in the labour market on the same terms with men because of care work responsibility: whether it's child care or older care or other forms of household responsibilities. That is a result of a norm – that this is somehow feminine, that it is women's work that would emasculate a man to do. So that is an institutionalized norm that has a real material effect that blocks women's capacity to participate fully on equal terms with men in the labour market, in political life, and in civil society.
But you could also say – and this is interconnected – that women are also blocked from full participation by lack of resources. We know that the poverty rate is higher for women than for men in almost all societies, largely because when men work, it is the woman who has to raise and support children. So we have what we call "female headed family", meaning a woman who is paid less than men and has to support children and so on. That is an issue of distribution not recognition. But they are connected. Together, these forms of distributive inequality and this force of misrecognition or status hierarchy work to make women's full equal participation difficult or impossible...
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