feminist agency in
Postmodernist and poststructuralist theories1have had a profound impact on feminism. They have compounded, and have helped to theorize, the timely crises in identity politics, and have left us with new ways of looking at the world. But postmodernist and poststructuralist positions incorporate a relativism2which make them unwieldy for use in an emancipatory endeavour. They can be used effectively to deconstruct masculinist assumptions, but go further and deconstruct our own assumptions about right and wrong, justice and injustice. And if our moral arguments are deconstructed or positioned as invalid, political movements founded on such arguments are also problematized. For this reason it has been argued that relativist postmodern theories can also cause political paralysis and a narcissistic turn to the academy at the expense of challenging the inequalities which continue to persist in the world at large (Hartsock 1990; Spretnack 1993; Eagleton 1996; Francis 1999, forthcoming). Some feminist researchers have, therefore, become dissatisfied with postmodernist accounts of the world, and are seeking new ways to theorize social relations. This chapter will consider some of the key issues in the debate, and possible ways forward.
theory in the late twentieth century
As we saw in Chapter 1, the 'second-wave' feminism precipitated by the Women's Liberation Movement in the late 1960s was by no means a unitary school. It incorporated a variety of different outlooks, from the 'radical' to the