The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching

By Stephen D. Brookfield | Go to book overview

Chapter Eleven
I Gendering Criticality

As will be all too clear from earlier chapters, the Frankfurt School of first-generation critical theory was largely generated by men for men. Concepts central to its discourse such as the commodification of labor, the alienating character of work, the oppositional role of the organic intellectual, and the re-creation of a public sphere were all articulated against the backdrop of a mostly male-conceived world of work and politics located in factories and bureaucracies. Since capitalism is viewed as an all-enveloping oppressive system, most critically inclined theorists are ready to admit to the importance of liberating all people—men, women, and children—from its constraints. But, as with race, gender is undertheorized in the male-authored Frankfurt canon. First-generation critical theory is strong on the analysis of alienated labor or the way repressive tolerance effectively neuters alternate ideologies but weak on the analysis of patriarchy as a source of female alienation or the way patriarchy allows a degree of carefully managed feminist critique as a way of heading off a more sustained challenge to the system.

Feminist responses to critical theory's exclusionary tendencies have taken many forms. One major movement has been the articulation of distinctively feminist epistemologies. This perspective emphasizes gender-based modes of cognition such as connected knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule, 1986) and maternal thinking (Ruddick, 1995). There has been a vigorous debate in feminist literature regarding the validity of feminist epistemology and the extent to which this analysis promotes or impedes women's interests (see, for example, Chodorow, 1989; Alcoff and Potter, 1993; Grant, 1993; Fluss, 1989). Writers such as Fraser (1989, 1997), and Gore (1993) have pointed out the dangers of a

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