This book is about a longstanding debate in feminist and social science literature: the relationship between class and patriarchy. For two decades and more, sociologists and feminists have argued about that relationship. Key questions have been: in what way are the two axes of social division related? which, if either, has primacy? what, if any, is the degree of autonomy for each? That debate and the questions addressed within it can be seen as paradigmatic forms of modernist feminist and sociological inquiry and critique. It has been concerned with an analysis of large-scale social inequalities and their causes; and it has been informed by the enlightenment view of the individual subject as capable of questioning truth through reason, and using it to construct an emancipatory politics.
In recent years, particularly since postmodernism has become fashionable in some academic quarters, new, alternative and important questions have been put on the feminist and social science agenda. Indeed the very terms and assumptions of that earlier-structural-modernist-debate have been called into question.
I do not propose to rehearse at length the ins and outs of the postmodernist position. But some of the key arguments in this new current have a bearing on some of the premises and standpoints of this study, and I shall devote a few paragraphs to them here as I think it as well to deal with them before going any further, and in so doing define my own approach.
For some, this new current is seen as one of feminism's greatest challenges. 1 It was Jean-Francois Lyotard's rejection of historical and social meta-narrative that threw down that challenge. 2 Lyotard's chief target was Marxism and its attempt to develop a