Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The "Private" Politics in Caregiving: Reflections on Ruth Lister's Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The "Private" Politics in Caregiving: Reflections on Ruth Lister's Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives

Article excerpt

Ruth Lister's seminal work, Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives (2003), still provides the field with critical insights. Her book shows feminists how to retain the emancipatory potential of citizenship, while jettisoning the masculine privilege the concept engenders because it originally defined "the citizen" in opposition to women and some marginalized groups of men. As readers will recall, Lister does not simply carve out space for women in existing citizenship theories. She redefines what counts as citizenship in the light of the circumstances of multiple categories of women who differ according to class, race, disability, and so on. By virtue of "critical syntheses" of the participatory and legal status traditions in the malestream literature, along with the ethics of care and justice and the related equality versus difference debate in the feminist literature, Lister proposes a vision of citizenship that positions caregiving among its central obligations and entitlements. Complementing insights shared also by Cass (1994) and Fraser (1994), she argues that contemporary citizenship should protect women from the penalties associated with the androcentric status quo, but do so as part of a larger project that reconstructs citizenship norms so that men must forgo their privileged irresponsibility for caregiving.

Lister carefully considers the policy implications of this reconstruction. Her fusion of normative theory with policy observations is a methodological breakthrough that remains underappreciated. The citizenship literature gained momentum in the 1990s as scholars showed renewed interest in the Tocquevillian "habits of the heart" that are integral to the health of modern democracies. Yet in their review of the literature, Kymlicka and Norman (2000) lament the timidity with which citizenship theorists apply insights about desirable qualities to public policy proposals that will induce citizens to adopt the associated practices. Lister's work eschews this timidity, examining a range of pragmatic issues. These include the design of parliamentary electoral systems, analyzing their implications for women's inclusion in, and reformulation of, formal politics; leave benefits and employment standards, evaluating mechanisms that support citizens to care personally; childcare services and pay and employment equity legislation, which enable citizens to make time to earn adequate and just wages; and social security policies, which support citizens, especially women, to live apart from family and, when necessary, escape violence. Lister's book therefore paves the way for researchers to conduct policy analyses informed, but unbound, by rational choice traditions, power resource theory, or one of the many brands of institutionalism. She instead illuminates that citizenship scholarship itself offers a methodological framework with which to advance the policy literature. This framework insists on the importance of deploying normative criteria to evaluate how policy creates or reinforces symbolic and economic incentives that foster autonomy for the disadvantaged or erode the unearned privileges of the powerful. Lister thus demonstrates a strong case for citizenship theorists to be included as active members in the business of policy design, evaluation, and reform.

One area of policy still requires much more analysis: that designed explicitly to challenge male free-riding on female care. Although this theme receives attention in Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives, it is overshadowed somewhat by other strengths, particularly because Lister aptly brings together the valuable insights about decornino dification, cornmodification, defamilialization, and autonomous household formation to which she, Langan and Ostner (1991), Orloff (1993), and McLaughlin and Glendinning (1994) gave voice in the early 1990s. This work was critical because it illuminated how to conduct comparative welfare scholarship from perspectives attuned to gender politics. …

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