When I was introduced to feminist theory as a student in the 1990s, I was taught that Marxist-feminism was over. The attempts to either fuse patriarchy and capitalism into a unified system or to construct some form of dual or triple systems theory had already gone through various cycles of criticism. Seeking to understand gender oppression through the critical framework of capitalism was deemed ontologically essentializing and epistemologically totalizing, insufficiently sensitive to historical specificity and cultural diversity. Post-structuralism was seen as the way forward. Unsurprisingly, most of my published work in feminist philosophy has appropriated this framework, particularly Foucault’s thought.
However, feminist theorists today are increasingly returning to the insight that capitalism must constitute the critical frame for understanding contemporary forms of gender oppression. The tables have turned: post-structuralism is now increasingly under attack from the Marxist margins. Many feminists have identified poststructuralist feminism as symptomatic of, or even partially responsible for, the new neoliberal configuration. They contend that in the midst of our current economic and social crisis, we are now well advised to return to the analyses of Marxist-feminists from the 1970s and 1980s.
I share this diagnosis to the extent that the rapid neoliberalization, which has characterized the last three or four decades, has put women and feminist thought in a completely new political situation. I also believe that a critical analysis of contemporary capitalism is a pressing task for feminist theory today. However, I want to insist that returns are never easy: something more than intellectual fashion changed in the 1980s and 1990s. Empirically, neoliberalism and globalization happened; theoretically, post-structuralism happened. Both of these changes mean that the terrain in which the questions about capitalism and gender oppression have to be posed has radically changed too. Hence, it might not be enough to find new answers to the old questions about the connections between patriarchy and capitalism. We may have to pose completely new questions. This is what I intend our seminar to do.