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To the American thinker Nancy Fraser whose non-conformist thinking is all the more valuable in a conformist world. In addition to her important contributions on the theme of ‘recognition’, Nancy Fraser addresses the problems of injustice, in particular, the structural injustices that pervade our society and align with social divisions such as gender, race/ethnicity, and class. As a critical theorist, she analyzes such injustices, reveals their root causes, and suggests how they might be remedied. To be a feminist, in her words, simply means “assuming that gender injustices exist and are pervasive and structurally grounded; that they are ‘wrong’; and that in principle they can be overcome”.
Nancy Fraser (born May 20, 1947) is an American philosopher, critical theorist, feminist, and the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at The New School in New York City. Widely known for her critique of identity politics and her philosophical work on the concept of justice, Fraser is also a staunch critic of neoliberal capitalism. She holds honorary doctoral degrees from six universities in five countries and is a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A past President of the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division, she won that organization’s Alfred Schutz Prize in Social Philosophy in 2010 and the Prix Mondial Nessim Habif from the University of Geneva in 2018. Her work was cited three times by Justices of the Brazilian Supreme Court, in opinions affirming marriage equality, affirmative action, and Afro-descendant collective land rights.
Fraser earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1969, and her PhD in philosophy from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1980. She taught in the philosophy department at Northwestern University for many years before moving to the New School, and has been a visiting professor at universities in Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Austria, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Formerly co-editor of Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, she now serves on the Editorial Committee of New Left Review. She has delivered the Tanner Lectures at Stanford University, the Spinoza Lectures at the University of Amsterdam, the Marc Bloch Lecture at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, and the Karl Polanyi Lecture at the University of Vienna. In June 2022, she will deliver the Walter Benjamin Lectures at Humboldt University, Berlin.
Fraser has written on a wide variety of issues. In recent books and essays, she has proposed a new critical theory of capitalist society, which discloses its inherent tendency to hollow out democracy, free-ride on women’s care work, expropriate the wealth of communities of color, and degrade nature.
Fraser is also known for her philosophical work on the concept of justice. She distinguished two dimensions of justice: distribution (focused on resources and wealth) and recognition (centered on respect and esteem). For Fraser, both are valid and need to be integrated–both in theory and in real-world political practice. Writing in the 1990s, she criticized the one-sided focus on recognition politics by many social justice movements, including feminism and anti-racism, just as neoliberalization was vastly widening class inequality.
In the following decades, Fraser sharpened that diagnosis into a powerful critique of liberal feminism, which she called the “handmaiden” of neoliberalism. Reflecting on Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In, Fraser explained:
For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies. This requires challenging the structural sources of gender domination in capitalist society — above all, the institutionalized separation of two supposedly distinct kinds of activity: on the one hand, so-called “productive” labor, historically associated with men and remunerated by wages; on the other hand, “caring” activities, often historically unpaid and still performed mainly by women. In my view, this gendered, hierarchical division between “production” and “reproduction” is a defining structure of capitalist society and a deep source of the gender asymmetries hard-wired in it. There can be no “emancipation of women” so long as this structure remains intact.