With Nancy Fraser, the Graduate School of North American Studies has brought one of the most famous intellectuals of our time to Berlin. A professor of Political Theory at New School for Social Research, New York, she is a successor to Hannah Arendt. For more than 20 years Nancy Fraser has fueled public debates worldwide with her theses on social justice, democracy and feminism. In Berlin, she has been researching as an Einstein Visiting Fellow on the "Crisis of American Democracy".
I want to understand the forms of inequality that characterize our world today and analyse them from a critical perspective to find solutions. I have applied that angle to problems of the welfare state, to multiculturalism, gender relations, democracy, and the economy. You could say I am a philosopher; my degrees are all in philosophy. But I prefer to see myself as a critical theorist in the tradition of the Frankfurt School – I am trying to give a diagnosis of our time, combining insights from social research, history, and philosophy. My research is about giving conceptual expression to very recent phenomena, things that are going on that may still need a name.
A great deal of my work has focussed on gender. I was inspired by second-wave feminism, which developed out of the new left starting in the late 1960s. I was active in the US civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and eventually the feminist movement. That was a very heady, radical time with a strong utopian spirit. As time went on, that idealism faded and what I would call “liberal feminism” started to dominate. Feminist ideas today ultimately serve to legitimate neoliberalism. Feminist critiques of the “male breadwinner, female homemaker” family model, which were absolutely important at the time, have recently been taken up to defend a more neoliberal organisation of labour.
I am not simply an activist or partisan, nor a distant observer of feminism. I am somewhere in between, with an activist history and a background as a scholar. I think these different aspects create a very productive tension.
My Einstein research group at the Freie Universität Berlin addresses the theme of crisis. We are not only interested in economic and financial crisis, but also in ecological, political, and social crises, and what we might call the “crisis of emancipation”, that is, the difficulty social movements have in grasping the situation in which they find themselves and developing adequate strategies.
Many important emancipation movements have ended up dovetailing with neoliberalism, just like feminism. Dominant currents within the green movement, for example, are flirting with notions of green finance, environmental derivatives, and so on. The same is true of dominant currents of the gay and lesbian movement. In all these cases, we find a story of unintended consequences that need to be made explicit so we can look closer and ask: Is this what we really want? Or is there another, better path?