Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis: Books

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Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis. By Nancy Fraser. Verso, 224pp, Pounds 60.00 and Pounds 14.99. ISBN 9781844679850, 79843 and 9781781682548 (e-book). Published 28 May 2013

As a gender scholar, I was thrilled to be asked to review Nancy Fraser's latest book, which Verso insists will become "a landmark of feminist thought". Fraser is one of the most influential feminist voices in the critical theory field, and her work has long been a staple of gender studies programmes. I was therefore disappointed to find that this book is not a "new" work, but rather a collection of essays that have been published before, some of them numerous times. Now that I've stated what the book isn't, I will spend the rest of the review talking about what it is; in a work spanning three decades, there is plenty to discuss.

Reading through this collection of essays, the earliest of which was published in 1985, I was reminded of the aphorism (often attributed to Mark Twain), "history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme" - the present echoes through even the oldest pieces. For example, chapter 3's genealogy of "dependency" in US welfare programmes mirrors the austerity debates in the UK today - with "freeloading immigrants" in Britain replacing the "black welfare queens" of the 1990s in the US. Readers in the UK will find the return to Fraser's early work illuminating, given the current flux. In this sense, the timeliness of this collection cannot be overstated, reminding us that an alternative to global capitalism's discouraging levels of inequality is desperately needed.

Given this immediacy, Part II, encompassing the "cultural turn" of the 1990s, feels somewhat detached. A chapter recounting Fraser's theoretical headbutting with Judith Butler - an argument played out ad nauseam in feminist circles - feels particularly so. Those familiar with Fraser's work may not be surprised that this is the most disconnected of the book's three parts. Fraser blames the "cultural turn" on many of feminism's shortcomings, arguing that identity politics shifted the focus from economic critique and resulted in a failure to address the advent of neoliberal capitalism (an argument described at length in Part III). …