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Challenging Liberalism

Feminism as Political Critique

Lisa H. Schwartzman

Publication Year: 2006

Questions about the relevance and value of various liberal concepts are at the heart of important debates among feminist philosophers and social theorists. Although many feminists invoke concepts such as rights, equality, autonomy, and freedom in arguments for liberation, some attempt to avoid them, noting that they can also reinforce and perpetuate oppressive social structures. In Challenging Liberalism Schwartzman explores the reasons why concepts such as rights and equality can sometimes reinforce oppression. She argues that certain forms of abstraction and individualism are central to liberal methodology and that these give rise to a number of problems. Drawing on the work of feminist moral, political, and legal theorists, she constructs an approach that employs these concepts, while viewing them from within a critique of social relations of power.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

I am very grateful for the advice and support I received while working on this book. First, I wish to thank Sandy Thatcher, my editor at Penn State Press, who has been supportive and helpful throughout the publication process, as well as the two reviewers, whose comments encouraged me to sharpen and develop my arguments in fruitful ways. ...

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pp. 1-12

The ideals and concepts of liberalism have been used in feminist struggles for liberation throughout recent history. From the time of the women's suffrage movement to the more recent battles over abortion, women have formulated their demands in terms of equality, autonomy, and individual rights. Although numerous feminists have demonstrated their value, liberal ...

Part I: A Feminist Critique of Liberalism

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1. Individualism, Oppression, and Liberal Rights Theory

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pp. 15-36

In recent years, a number of feminist scholars and activists have examined the function of rights in liberal political theory and have raised questions about how rights should be defined and understood.1 Some claim that although rights can be used in arguments for women's equality, they can also function to uphold the power of privileged groups. For instance, in ...

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2. Abstract Ideals and Social Inequality: Dworkin's Equality of Resources

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pp. 37-54

Although political philosophers, feminists, and ethical theorists often employ abstract ideals to argue for social change, these ideals can also work to support and perpetuate hierarchical relations of social, political, and economic power. In the previous chapter, I demonstrated how liberal rights theory can function in support of such hierarchies and argued that this problem relates ...

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3. Rawlsian Abstraction and the Social Position of Women

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pp. 55-74

Whereas Dworkin's writings have not attracted much attention from feminists, the work of John Rawls has been the subject of considerable feminist debate.1 In fact, some claim that a reformulated version of Rawls's theory of justice holds great potential for feminism. Unlike many liberal theorists who focus narrowly on equalizing the resources or the welfare of ...

Part II: Abstraction, Ideals, and Feminist Methodologies

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4. Idealization, Abstraction, and the Use of Ideals in Feminist Critique

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pp. 77-94

In Chapters 2 and 3, we have seen that both Rawls and Dworkin construct abstract ideals in order to develop and defend their theories of justice and equality and that various problems arise from their attempted abstraction. As feminists, critical race scholars, and other social justice theorists have illustrated, the social context is characterized by various hierarchies, such ...

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5. Feminism as an Alternative Methodology

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pp. 95-110

In recent years, a number of feminist liberals have asserted that various aspects of liberalism can be adapted to feminist ends. In Chapter 3, I examined Okin's contention that, with some modification, Rawls's original position can yield feminist conclusions, and in Chapter 4 I considered O'Neill's arguments that the problems with liberal theory arise only with ...

Part III: Feminist Postmodernism: An Alternative to Liberalism?

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6. Politicized Identity, Women's Experience, and the Law

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pp. 113-132

In previous chapters, I drew on the work of Catharine MacKinnon, Susan Babbitt, Elizabeth Anderson, and Iris Marion Young to argue that certain forms of feminist theory and practice offer an alternative to both the abstraction and the individualism of liberalism. I suggested that without entirely dismissing the concepts of rights, equality, and justice, feminists can recognize ...

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7. Speech, Authority, and Social Context

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pp. 133-158

In Chapter 6, in examining Wendy Brown's postmodern critique of liberal rights, I argued that Brown does not offer any real alternative to liberalism's abstraction. Like the liberal theorists whom she criticizes, Brown fails to engage in concrete analyses of social relations of power. In this chapter, I treat the work of another postmodern feminist, Judith Butler, whose views are ...

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Conclusion: Toward a Feminist Approach to Political Theorizing

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pp. 159-174

In the preceding two chapters, I have illustrated how attempts to reject legal discourse, normative concepts, and moral critique can end up reinforcing the status quo. Although Butler and Brown do not intend to convey support for current arrangements of power, their plan to bring about change through individual acts of resistance will be ineffective without larger cultural ...


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pp. 175-194


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pp. 195-204


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pp. 205-210

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052953
E-ISBN-10: 0271052953
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271028545
Print-ISBN-10: 0271028548

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2006