Redistribution, Recognition, Participation: An Introduction, and Contextualization of, Nancy Fraser's project of an 'Integrated Conception of Justice'.
(Paper given at the Symposium on Fraser's work held at Warwick University on Saturday 22 March 2003)
Nancy Fraser's Project: An Integrated Conception of Justice
This paper was presented at the Symposium as an introduction to Nancy Fraser's Integrated Conception of Justice, because of the unavoidable absence of Nancy Fraser herself, was to have presented a paper on this topic.
Democratic deliberation and the dialogical method
This is the first aspect of Fraser's approach to which I wish to draw attention in this presentation. She espouses 'dialogics' as her preferred method of developing philosophical and social theory and democratic deliberation for the resolution of competing claims for justice. Disputes are to be resolved through 'the give and take of argument' and 'democratic processes of public debate' (Fraser 2003, forthcoming, p36). Fraser's allegiances within social theory are plural. She cannot be unequivocally labelled. But her passionate commitment to dialogue and debate signals very clearly her debt to, and (critical) engagement with the Critical Theory that has its roots in the Marxism of the Frankfurt School.
Dialogics structures the form that much of her work has taken as well as its substance. Her ideas have been developed through a series of debates with key thinkers who are engaged in similar political and theoretical projects, in relation to whom and in distinction from which she wishes to define her own project. These include Axel Honneth, with whose work she engages throughout the recognition/redistribution debates, Iris Marion Young, and Judith Butler. Characteristically she has a book in preparation co-authored with Honneth, entitled Redistribution or Recognition?A Political-Philosophical Exchange (Verso, forthcoming). This continues and further develops the dialogic format of an earlier volume in which her co-authors were Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler and Drucilla Cornell (Feminist Contentions:A Philosophical Exchange, Routledge 1994). (We might also mention in this context the Butler/Laclau/Zizek dialogues, published as Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues 0n the Left, Verso 2000, and indeed the tradition of the extended interview that New Left Books used so effectively in the case of Raymond Williams's Politics and Letters, 1979, as well as the similar use of this form to elucidate the work of Pierre Bourdieu (P Bourdieu and L Wacquant, Invitation to a Reflexive Sociology, Polity 1992). This dialogic form is not highly regarded in the battle for 'distinction' adjudicated by academic research assessment exercises, in which the preferred form is monologic, with intellectual interchanges under the commanding control of the single author: the monograph. I want to introduce Fraser's project through a consideration of some of the dialogues through which it was developed.
Dualism: the Economic and the Cultural
The debate over recognition versus redistribution that signalled the project of developing an integrated conception of justice began in earnest in 1995 with the publication of two articles (both republished in Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the 'Postsocialist' Condition, Routledge 1997). From this starting point Fraser defined her project through the development of what she came to term 'perspectival dualism'. The dualism in question operates at several layers. At its most general, it distinguishes 'the economic' from 'the cultural', an opposition that has had a lengthy and troubled history within left social and political theory. Placed in the context of second wave feminism, it echoes the split over 'dual systems theory'. Dual systems theory was associated with the synthesis of Althusserian Marxism with feminist psychoanalysis. Althusserian structuralism had a certain uncanny resemblance to Talcott Parsons' sociological structural-functionalism, explicitly so in the work of one of the chief architects in Britain of feminist dual systems theory, Juliet Mitchell (Women's Estate, Penguin, 1971). For Mitchell, economic and political practice (in Althusser's terms) both yield to the explanatory power of political economy whilst sexuality and the social relations of family and kinship are referred to the analytical power of psychoanalysis and structural linguistics. They belong to the cultural/symbolic rather than the economic order.
The 'cultural turn' in social theory swept the boards in the period from the late 1980s, set the parameters within which left social and cultural theory subsequently operated. A number of theorists inside an outside feminism disavowed 'the cultural turn', whilst others embraced it wholeheartedly, turning away from their erstwhile Marxist materialism. Nancy Fraser belongs to a group that eschewed both of these moves, preferring to sift and utilize what is important in 'the cultural turn' without falling (or ascending) into what Stuart Hall once characterized as 'reductionism upwards': the absorption of everything without remainder into 'the cultural', so that it is both everywhere and nowhere in particular, and indeed merges with 'the material' and 'the economic'. Reductionism upwards, argued Hall, is every bit as damaging to the project of developing a viable left social, political and cultural analysis as is economic reductionism downwards.
Fraser's 'perspectival dualism' attempts to 'finesse' the distinction between 'the material' and 'the cultural', yet to retain a distinction between 'the economic order' and 'the cultural order' that is institutionalised within status hierarchies, and between the injustices of maldistribution and those of misrecognition.
Both Iris Marion Young and Judith Butler, in their respective exchanges with Fraser, take her to task for this dualism of the cultural and the economic (misinterpreted by Butler as 'the material'). Opponents of dual systems theory generally take the view that oppositions of this kind are invariably hierarchical, with one or another party effectively marginalizing or even entirely engrossing the other. This is Butler's stance in her exchange with Fraser, with its revealing title 'Marx and the 'merely cultural' (NLR 227, 1998). She locates Fraser firmly within a double 'accumulation of sentiment' that consists firstly in an 'explicitly Marxist objection to the reduction of Marxist scholarship and activism to the study of culture, sometimes understood as the reduction of Marxism to cultural studies'; this is accompanied by a 'tendency to relegate new social movements [such as the gay and lesbian movement] to the sphere of the cultural' (ibid 33). Fraser, argues Butler, is reinstating a 'neoconservative Marxism', a base-superstructure model in which the economic is privileged at the expense of 'the merely cultural'.
In an incisive response, Fraser counter-attacks with the accusation that Butler is returning to 'one of the worst aspects of 1970s Marxism and socialist feminism', a fundamental over-totalization of 'capitalist society as a monolithic 'system' of interlocking structures of oppression that seamlessly reinforce one another' (NLR 228, 147). In other words, Butler is returning to a form of Marxist structuralism that closely resembles sociological structural-functionalism.
In what terms does Fraser define and defend her dualism of the economic and the cultural? Firstly, she conceives of it as an analytical rather than a substantive distinction. Secondly, she links 'redistribution' to the economic order and 'recognition' to the dominant status order in which the standing of individuals and groups is determined by institutionalised cultural patterns of interpretation through which recognition and respect is granted or withheld. Those who are denied recognition (misrecognised) suffer a variety of injuries, and are every bit as much victims of injustice as are those who suffer harm through maldistribution. But, she argues, 'a status injury [such as that suffered by lesbians and gays in a homophobic world] is analytically distinct from, and conceptually irreducible to, the injustice of maldistribution, although it may be accompanied by the latter' (NLR 228, 141). She argues that in all cases where claims of injustice are made, it is necessary to identify the primary harm suffered, in terms of its roots in either the economic or the status order, since the primary remedy will then lie in either redistribution or recognition - the transformation or the reform of either the economic or the status order. Thus in Butler's case of lesbian and gay oppression Fraser argues that the heteronormative regulation of sexuality is not 'hardwired' into the economic structure but is part of the status order of capitalist society, for 'it structures neither the social division of labour nor the mode of exploitation of labour-power in capitalist society' (ibid, 145).
Fraser is well aware however that lesbians and gays may also suffer secondary and serious harm within the economic order (and similarly recognises that strategic changes in one order may have knock on effects for the other. For example changes in the legal standing of lesbians and gays may improve their access to employment). Her dualism is perspectival and can therefore accommodate the recognition of both types of harm in relationship to oppressions that have their roots in one or another of her two 'relatively autonomous' orders, the economic or the status orders of society. Indeed she argues that every form of harm, whatever its primary locus, must be viewed from both perspectives and may and indeed perhaps must, typically, require the application of remedies of both redistribution and recognition:
[I]nstitutionalized value patterns continue to permeate marketized interactions, even though they do not directly govern the latter; and instrumental considerations continue to suffuse value-regulated arenas, even though they do not enjoy a free hand. It follows that distribution and recognition can never be fully disentangled. All interactions partake simultaneously of both dimensions ... [and] all must be analysed bifocally and evaluated from both perspectives' (2003, p22)
Thirdly, Fraser introduces another element, alongside the opposition between class and status in her concept of participatory parity. If her dualism of the economic and status orders owes more to Max Weber than to Marx, then she borrows further from him in introducing a third type of injustice that is located in the political order itself - Weber's distinction after all was tripartite - class, status and party. Fraser's third order however has a rather different standing from the other two. As we have seen, she identifies two types of harm, status-injury and the injuries of economic maldistribution. However the political order supplies her with her very bar before which injury claims are to be adjudicated. Fraser is deeply and radically committed to equality in an era in which it has become distinctly unfashionable. She wishes to develop a politics of equality that transforms the inequities of maldistribution and status misrecognition. But the two forms of injury count, finally, as injustices only insofar as they affect a form of parity which is more fundamental than economic or status inequalities: the manner and extent to which they impede participatory parity. 'The remedy for injustice' she argues, considered in its most general form, [is] the removal of impediments to participatory parity' (2003, p65). Participatory parity provides the single overarching principle of justice that both status and class orders of subordination/domination violate. She recognizes that this fundamental commitment to participatory parity is drawn from the 'core concepts of the liberal tradition, namely equal autonomy and moral worth of human beings' (2003, chapter 3, p29). 'Participatory parity constitutes a radical-democratic interpretation of equal autonomy' (ibid p36). As a principle of justice it enjoins removal of economic obstacles to full social participation, supplying a standard for the adjudication of claims for redistribution and for recognition: only claims that diminish economic disparities and that promote status equality are justified. She terms her approach 'thick deontological liberalism' (ibid p37) a view of justice as participatory parity that is simultaneously deontological (whilst avoiding both sectarianism and recognizing moral pluralism), and substantive rather than merely procedural.
The second major criticism that Fraser makes of Butler's 'Marxism and the merely cultural' in the sharp exchange between them over redistribution and recognition, echoes the criticism levied against functionalist systems theory, whether the sociological structural-functionalism of Talcott Parsons or the Marxist functionalism of Althusser and his followers. If the component sub-systems or semi-autonomous practices of social systems or social formations are interlocked so that they mutually reinforce one another, then we are faced with political as well as theoretical difficulties. In each case, systems analysis has had to offer some complementary theory of system change. Parsons turned to Spencerian social evolutionary theory (having opened his magisterial book, The Structure of Social Action, with the rhetorical question 'who now reads Spencer?') Althusser relied on the contradictions, principal and subordinate, of his various 'practices'. He famously declared that while in the last instance, it is the economy that is determining, this lonely last instance never comes. This frees him up meanwhile to sponsor 'conjunctural analysis' of particular historical moments in which the most salient contradiction may be located in one of the less dominant practices. Thus Juliet Mitchell, using the Althusserian frame, argued that at the particular conjuncture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the weakest link in the chain of capitalist patriarchal domination was sexuality (Mitchell 1991). The identification of 'the weakest link' indicates the point at which political intervention may be most effective in destabilizing the whole structure.
Butler, returning to the same intellectual moment, but drawing not on Mitchell, but on another keynote text that acknowledged a debt to Mitchell, and was produced in 1975, the year following the publication of Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Gayle Rubin's '"The traffic in women": the "political economy" of sex', in Reiter, R (ed) (1975) Towards an Anthropology of Women, New York: Monthly Review Press. Rubin had argued that capitalism is deeply imbricated with and dependent upon compulsory, institutionalized heterosexuality. Therefore it followed that campaigns for the recognition of lesbian and gay rights, indeed the very existence and visibility of lesbian and gay people, is corrosive of the capitalist social order. Not so, says Fraser, because the interdependence of sexuality and capitalism is historically variable. In conditions of contemporary global capitalism and neoliberalism, on the contrary, a fairly wide gap has opened up between them, decoupling them to the extent that capitalism can tolerate, feel comfortable with and even profit by dissident sexualities (NLR 228, p 145). Capitalism no longer requires the traditional patriarchal nuclear family in quite the same way that it once may have done. 'Empirically' Fraser goes on to claim, 'it is highly implausible that gay and lesbian struggles threaten capitalism in its actually existing form' (ibid).
In a paper given at Warwick in December 2002, Mandy Merck argued that the unfixed transgressive subjectivity of queer theory/practice is arguably and paradoxically better adapted to the exigencies and requirements of global capitalism that the conformist 'family man/woman'.
This brings me to some of the issues that this symposium will raise in the presentations of the next two speakers. Firstly, Fraser's thought originates within the terms of bounded 'social formations' or 'societies'. The forum for her philosophical and political processes for the adjudication of injustice claims pertaining to misrecognition and maldistribution is, tacitly at least, contained by the boundaries of citizenship and nation state. However in her most recent work she has begun to address the complications that arise in the context of a globalized economy, cultural pluralism, and the mass movement of individuals across national boundaries. Where are the status and economic claims of migrants and stateless persons to be staked? With what authorities are their claims legitimately laid, with some prospect of success in redressing injury? How well does Fraser's model of perspectival dualism and participatory parity, of an integrated conception of justice transfer into this historically specific conjuncture of capitalism? This is a world order in which the reach of 'the economic' is wider than that of any political or legal system, and sweeps aside cultural/status barriers. These are questions that Nancy Fraser would no doubt have addressed had she been here, and we look forward with keen interest to see how she develops her analysis to deal with these matters.
Secondly, Fraser's work provides powerful tools that have been immensely valuable to critical social policy. We are fortunate indeed to have here today Nira Yuval-Davis and Ruth Lister, who will be discussing some of these issues that are so critical for Fraser's project.
Warwick University, March 2003