- Feminist Economics Today: Beyond Economic Man
For a variety of reasons, feminists have been slower to establish a toehold within economics than within other social science and humanities disciplines. Although feminists have struggled at the margins of the discipline for over a century, we established an institutionalized presence only recently. It has been fifteen years since I attended an attention-grabbing panel titled "Can Feminism Find a Home in Economics?" at the Allied Social Science Association/American Economic Association annual meetings in 1990. Prior to that session, the word "feminism" was not part of the lexicon in the field. While some of us clawed our way through doctoral programs in economics and were fortunate enough to have dissertation advisors who supported our research that included women in the analysis or contrasted the experiences of women and men, little published work was explicitly feminist. The overcrowded session at the 1990 annual meetings was refreshing. A sign-up sheet was passed around to ascertain interest in starting a new feminist economics network. Within two years, the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) was born. For a significant number of economists who were feminists, the phrase "feminist economist" became an important, more accurate, descriptor of our identity, and our feelings of isolation in a male-dominated and androcentric discipline began to change.
The development of a feminist perspective within economics is important not only for those within the discipline, but gender scholars and women's advocates in many fields. Mainstream economic theory is the dominant paradigm of contemporary public policy. Free markets and minimal government are predicated on a view of human behavior that is deeply androcentric. The androcentrism of economics was explored in an earlier volume by the same editors, Beyond Economic Man (Ferber and Nelson 1993). Feminist Economics Today is a fitting sequel.
The feminist economics project has come a long way in a decade, and the book serves as an excellent illustration of the richness of its [End Page 213] scholarship. Specifically, feminist economics has begun to move beyond critique. The majority of the contributions in this new volume, after turning traditional, mainstream, or neoclassical economics on its head, provide the foundations for a developing paradigm. This second generation of work, demonstrating how feminists within economics have benefited from scholarship in other social sciences and the humanities, is written for a broad audience of students as well as gender scholars, making it widely accessible as a teaching resource.
Editors Marianne Ferber and Julie Nelson have assembled a collection of eight chapters that exemplify the direction that feminist economic research has taken in the last decade. Paula England, for example, substantially updates her chapter on the separative self from 1993's Beyond Economic Man. England reviews recent feminist critiques of separative as well as soluable selves and points us to literature within economics that provides "a partial corrective to this dichotomous notion of the self" (34). Three research streams are summarized: bargaining models of the household; models of endogenous (as opposed to exogenous) tastes; the study of care work, tending children, other household members, nursing, doctoring, counseling, and therapy. In the subsequent chapter, "Contracting for Care," England, with Nancy Folbre, develops an analysis of care that links feminist theory with new institutionalist approaches within economics. Drawing upon the institutionalism of Karl Polanyi, Lourdes Benerìa both hones a critique of mainstream development policies and constructs an alternative framework for analyzing globalization.
Lisa Saunders and William Darity, Jr. supply a critical chapter on the evolving work of race-ethnicity as a social category and its interactions with gender. In the years since Beyond Economic Man, there has been considerable progress in developing a sophisticated, nuanced, transdisciplinary, understanding of racial discrimination. For readers who are unfamiliar with the origins of postcolonial thought, S. Charusheela and Eiman Zein-Elabdin provide a superior primer in a chapter titled "Feminism, Postcolonial Thought, and Economics." One of the most innovative chapters delves inside the "black box" of the firm. Julie Nelson explores areas where economists...