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Chapter 6.docx

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University of Guelph
SOC 3310
Reza Barmaki

Modern Feminist Theory: Chapter 6 - Feminist theory is woman-centered or women-centered –in two ways o First, the starting point of all its investigation is the situation (or the situations) and experience of women in society o Second, it seeks to describe the social world from the distinctive vantage points of women - Feminist theory differs from most sociological theories in that it is the work of an interdisciplinary and international community of scholars, artists, and activists Feminism’s Basic Questions - Feminist theory begins in a deceptively simple question: “and what about the women?” In other words, where are the women in any situation being investigated? o Over 40 years of posing this question has produced some generalizable answers. Women are present in most social situations. Where they are not, it is not because they lack ability or interest, but because there have been deliberate efforts to exclude them. - The second basic question is “why is all this as it is?” o One of feminist sociological theory’s major contributions to answering this question has been the development of the concept gender o Beginning in the 1970s, feminist theorists made it possible for people to see the distinctions between (a) biologically determined attributes associated with male and female and (b) the socially learned behaviours associated with the masculinity and femininity - The third question for all feminist is “how can we change and improve the social world so as to make it a more just place for all people?” o This commitment to social transformation in the interest of justice is the distinctive characteristics of critical social theory, as commitment shared in sociology by feminism, Marxism, neo-Marxism, and social theories being developed by racial and ethnic minorities and in postcolonial societies - A fourth question: “and what about the difference among women?” o The answers to this question lead to a general conclusion that the invisibility, inequality, and role difference in relation to men which generally characterize women’s lives are profoundly affect by a woman’s social location –that is, by her class, race, age, affectional preference, marital status, religion, ethnicity, and global location - The appropriate parallel for feminism’s major theoretical achievement is to one of Marx\s epistemological accomplishments o Marx showed that the knowledge people had of society, what they assumed to be an absolute and universal statement about reality, in fact reflected the experience of those who economically and politically ruled the world; he effectively demonstrated that one also could view the world from the vantage point of the world’s workers - Feminist theory deconstructs established systems of knowledge by showing their masculinsts bias and the gender politics framing and informing them Modern Macro-Social Theorists of Gender - The theorists of structural functionalism, conflict theory, and neo-Marxism world systems theory, all use the same analytic process in placing gender in their generalized theoretical account of large-scale social phenomena - First, they define those phenomena as a system of interrelated and interacting structures that are understood as “patterned regularities in people’s behaviour” - Functionalists and analytic conflict theorists focus on nation-states or, on occasion, especially within analytic conflict theory, on pre-modern cultural groupings - World systems theory treats global capitalism as a transnational system within which nation-states are important structures - A major recent development is the argument that gender itself must be seen as such a structure, interacting with but not reducible to a consistent part of other such structures - All three macro theorists arrive at the same conclusion: women’s primary location –in the sense that it is a location seen within all cultures as the distinctive “sphere” for women –is the household/family. From that primary location, and always with it as a framing condition, women may have other significant structural sites for activity, most notably in the market economy o The issues then becomes that of understanding the functions of the household/family in the social system and of charting the relationship between household and economy - Each of these groups of gender theorists seek to explain gender stratification Functionalism - The major proponent of a functionalist theory of gender has been Miranda Johnson o Johnson acknowledges the failure of functionalism to adequately explore women’s disadvantage in society o Accepts that there is an unintentional sexists bias in Talcott Parson’s theory of family o Most significant for a functionalist understanding of gender is Johnson’s application of Parson’s concepts of expressive versus instrumental roles, his thesis of the family’s relationship to other institutions, and his model of the functional prerequisites o Johnson locates much of the origin of inequality in the structure of the patriarchal family, in place in almost all known societies o Women’s functions in the family and orientation toward expressiveness affect their functions in all other social structures, especially the economy o None of these functions, fully explain the gender stratification system that devalues and disadvantages women. To understand why gender stratification is produced, we must return to the patriarchal family o Institutional and cultural constraints require that the woman be weak and expressively compliant in relation to her husband, whose instrumentally mediated competitiveness as a relational stance against which instrumentality seems more powerful and valuable.  This valuing of male instrumentality as more effective than female expressiveness is diffuse in the culture o One of Johnson’s hopes is that the women’s movement will produce the societal and cultural changes that lead a system-wide re-evaluation of expressiveness o However, Johnson must deal with the question of how patriarchal structures are functional in the production of system equilibrium and social order Analytic Conflict Theory - The most influential theorist working on the issue of gender from the perspective of analytic conflict theory is Janet Chafetz o Chafetz’s approach is cross-cultural and trans-historical and seeks to theorize gender in all its particular societal patternings. More specifically, she focuses on gender inequality or, as she labels it, sex stratification o Chaftez explores the social structures and conditions that affect the intensity of sex stratification –or the disadvantageous of women –in all societies and cultures  These include gender role differentiation, patriarchal ideology, family and work organization, and framing conditions such as fertility patterns, separation of household and worksites, economic surplus, technological sophistication, population density, and environmental harshness  The interaction of these variables determines the degrees of sex stratification, because they frame the key structures of household and economic production and the degree to which move between two areas o Chafetz’s position is that women experience the least disadvantageous when they can balance household responsibilities with a significant and independent role in marketplace production o The household/family is viewed not as an area of outside of work, a zone of emotions and nurturance, but as an area in which works occurs –child care, housework, and sometimes also work (as on the family farm) for which there are extra household material rewards  Women’s access to those rewards through wither household or marketplace production becomes the mitigation against social disadvantage , and the form of household – resulting the interplay of many other variables –is the key structure facilitating or obstructing this access World System Theory - World-systems theory takes global capitalism in all its historical phases as the system for sociological analysis - Since the defining process framing this theory’s investigation is capitalism, individuals in all societal units typically are understood in terms of their roles within capitalist arrangements for the creation of surplus value - This theory thus typically understand women’s role in the social system only to the degree that their labour is part of capitalism that is, when they are workers within capitalist production and markets - Kathryn B. Ward argues o 1) that the world-system cannot be understand until the labour of the household and the labour of the informal economy are properly factored in o 2) the because women compose much of this labour, women must be given special attention in the world-system theory and not simply subsumed under the title “worker” o The household constitutes all the work done at home to maintain and reproduce the worker; the informal economy is that organization of work in which there is no clear separation between labour and capital and no regulation of labour by law or capitalists organization o Ward argues that perhaps 66 percent of the world’s work is done in these two largely ignored, noncapitalist economies and the proportion of the world’s work done in these two economies is expanding precisely as capitalism itself expands globally o In the world-system it reveals a vast “subcontinent” of noncapitalist production coexisting, expanding, and interacting with global capitalism Modern Micro-Social Theories of Gender - Focuses less on explaining women’s social disadvantage - Related to symbolic interactionism o Explicating he phenomenon of gender as it enters into women’s understanding of society as human beings in interaction; they ask how gender is present in interactions and how interactions produce gender - Symbolic interactionist accounts how individuals engaged in maintaining the gendered self in various situations - The person brings a gendered self into situations and tries to act according to this internalized definition, which may be modified through interaction from situation to situation but is the repository of the gender component of people’s transsituational behaviour - Ethnomethodologists make the theoretically important distinction among sex, sex category, and gender Anthony Giddens - Giddens argues instead that the present moment in history is high modernity, in which the patterns of modernity persist but in a mode of accelerating and often unpredictable macro-level change, features of which include globalization risk, uncertainty, and the penetration and transformation of the microsocial locales of daily living by large-scale impersonal forces for appropriation and standardization - Giddens sees gender relations, working to produce there the radical equality necessary to a full experience of intimacy Habermas - The first point made about Habermas has been that his work presumed gendered roles without addressing the problem of gender inequality - But feminist nevertheless have been drawn by his vision of possibility of a liberating and democratic society founded on the practice of communicative action in the public sphere - Communicative action is discourse marked by particiapnt’s recognition of each other as equals and their attempt to arrive without bias at universally applicable norms for a given situation - The public sphere is seen by Habermas as a place where something like public opinion can be created - Feminists have found two problems at the idea of the public sphere o 1) the tendency in the Marxian thought to equate the public with the government o 2) the tendency in feminist thought to equate the public with everything that is the not private domestic sphere - The public sphere presented by Habermas is above all intersubjective reality Pierre Bourdieu - To appreciate the uses of feminists have made of Bourdieu, it is necessary to beifly suggest his model of society - Bourdieu has four main parts o Practice: is something done in order to stake out a position in a field o Field: which is an area of social life that generates its own network of relations and rules and supports the practices necessary to maintain these. Fields are potentially infinite. Most important is the field of power, but there are also economic field, the social field, the legal field, the educational field, the family field, and so on. The individual person engages in practice in any given field through the mechanism of habitus o Habitus: a system of dispositions to action produced out of the conditioning experiences of one’s life history and structuring one’s actions toward stimuli encountered in the field. As the individual engages in practice in any given field through the mechanism of the habitus, he or she attempts to acquire and convert various kinds of capital o Capital: the resources one uses in practice for example, economic capital (wealth), social capital (relations), cultural capital (knowledge of how to practice in a particular field), and symbolic capital (prestige, the right to be hard) - Feminists have found Bourdieu useful in dealing with a number of recurring questions in feminist theory - Bourdieu’s model of the social world as a physical space –a series of autonomous or interrelated fields in which embodied persons seek positions –provides a useful image for resolving the ongoing tension in feminists theory between agency and structure - Toril Moi, presents gender as functioning similarly to Bourdieu’s sense of social class: both structure the social field –a general, diffuse area of social relationship that overlaps or interrelates with nearly all other fields o Gender as part of this social field is not an independent system but a “particularly combinatory social category, one that infiltrates and influences every other category” - Where Bourdieu has been perhaps most useful to the feminists analysis, however, is in his explanation of the process of domination and social change - Feminist theorists also question Bourdieu’s emphasis on women/mothers as transmitters of cultural capital in the child’s early formation of habitus and his insistence that social placement derives from the father - Bourdieu’s theoretical dependence on a traditional Western gendered habitus of male dominance and female submission is seen as limiting his ability to respond the the fact of a changing gender order Varieties of Contemporary Feminist Theory - The link between feminist theory and the sociology of gender helps explain the “groundedness” –in principle and practice –of feminist theoretical work; that is, the dynamic ongoing relation between research and theoretical “discovery” - Theoretical clams very frequently are made inductively in research statements –at least often as they are arrived at deductively from a body of theoretical work - There has been shift in the guiding problematic from women’s oppression to oppressive practices and strcutures that impact the lives of the majority of the world’s population, men and women - A major line of tension has developed between interpretations that emphasize culture and meaning and those that emphasize the material consequences for power - Feminist theory is coming to be practiced as part of what Thomas Khun has called “normal science” that is its assumptions are taken for granted as a starting point in ongoing empirical research Gender Difference - All theories that describe, explain, and trace the implications of the way in which men and women are or not the same in behaviour and experience - All theories of gender difference have to confront the problem of what usually is termed “the essentialist argument”: the thesis that the fundamental differences between men and women are immutable. The immutability usually is seen as traceable to three factors o 1) biology o 2) social institutional needs for men and women to fill different roles, most especially but not exclusively in the family o 3) the existential or phenomenological need of human beings to produce an “Other” as part of the act of self-definition Cultural Feminism - Theorists such as Margaret Fuller, Frances Willard, Jane Addams, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman were proponents of a cultural feminism, that argued that in the goverining of the state, society needed such women’s virtues as cooperation, caring, pacifism, and nonviolence in the settlement of conflicts - The theme from cultural feminism most current in contemporary literature is that developed from Carol Gilligan’s argument that women operate out of a different method of moral reasoning than men - Gilligan contrasts these two ethical styles as “the ethic of care,” which is seen as female and which focuses on achieving outcomes where all parties feel that their needs
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