How Could Habermas’s Theory Be Useful To Feminism

Two factors have been primarily responsible for the development of the sociology of women: first, the definition of womens position in society as a social problem; and second, the reassessment of women as people who are just as important as men. Changes in society and in particular, the Womens Liberation Movement have led to the emergence of the sociology of gender as a subject area in its own right (Haralambos and Holborn, 1998). Beginning with different values, priorities and concerns, women usually ask different questions from men.

Male and female researchers often produce completely different answers to the same uestions. Many early feminist writers argued that the views of male sociologists on the position of women were largely rationalizations and justifications for male dominance. That operating from a commitment to male dominance, male sociologists assume that the subordinate position of women is beneficial for society. However, from feminist perspective, beneficial for society should read beneficial for men.

And male sociologists start from the value judgment that what is good for men is good for society (Haralambos and Holborn, 1998). Like their male counterparts, feminist ociologists have not been able to prevent their own values from entering their work. Indeed, feminists of different kinds have sometimes accused the work of their fellow feminists as being value-laden. There seems to be what could be described as creative tension between different feminist positions. This tension is perhaps part of the inevitable process of knowledge production (Pinkus, 1996).

However much the values of feminist sociologists have influenced their work, they have succeeded in opening up the study of gender (Haralambos and Holborn, 1998). Weedon defined feminism as politics. He said, It is a politics directed at changing existing power relations between men and women in society. These power relations structure all areas of life, the family, education and welfare, the worlds of work and politics, culture and leisure. They determine who does what and for whom, what we are and what we might become. Pinkus, 1996)

Just as feminists have accused their own kind, they have criticized Jurgen Habermass philosophy and social theory. In her book, Marie Fleming took strong issue with Habermas over his understanding of rationality and emancipation, history, and gender (Fleming). Throughout the book she focused attention on the various ways in which an idea of emancipation motivated and shaped Habermass universalist theory and how it persisted over several major stages in methodology.

Flemings critique of Habermas began from the view that universalism has to include a vision of gender equality, and she asked why Habermas, despite deeply held concerns about equality and inclusiveness, repeatedly and systematically relegated matters of gender to secondary status in his social and moral theory. The point of Flemings critique of Habermas was not to dispute universalism, but to build on he key universalist principles of inclusiveness and equality. Her intention was to show that Habermass theory of modernity is so structured that it cannot achieve its universalist aims (Fleming).

Habermass philosophy and social theory draws a line between modernity and postmodernity. Everyone, from Habermas himself, to his sympathizers, to the postmodernists, agree on one thing, namely, that Habermas stood for the universalizing tendency of modernity. To be for or against Habermas was understood to be the same as standing for or against universalism. From Flemings feminist perspective, Habermass theory was not universalist nough. She contended that universalism has to include a vision of gender equality, and questioned why Habermass theory of communicative action does not allow for the articulation of such a vision.

Fleming asked why, for example, Habermas included feminism in the list of heterogeneous and particularistic social movements, environmental groups, antinuclear protests, tax revolts, and so on, that have sporadically made themselves felt in Western societies in the latter part of the twentieth century. She wondered how he could suggest that feminism belongs to the grand niversalistic tradition of bourgeois-socialist liberation movements and still maintain that feminism is a new social movement reflecting late-twentieth-century particularistic aspirations.

The feminist asked if Habermas continues to develop a moral theory that denies moral status to issues of gender, despite concerns raised by feminist theorists. She was curious as to why Habermas viewed his class-based model of the public sphere of modernity, which he worked out over three decades ago, as basically correct, despite the evidence for the differential basis of womens exclusion from the public sphere. Despite the usefulness to feminism of Habermass theory due to his universalist ideas, feminists like Fleming have insisted that Habermass views are not feministic enough.

Habermas did not view himself as a feminist. He was a universalist but a practical one, not an extreme one. And there are bound to be disagreements between views and opinions. Fleming recognized that Habermass views are not incompatible with feminist insights. For example, he stood by his early view that there is a constitutive connection between knowledge and human interests and that a reflexive understanding of that connection requires a fundamental change of perspective in theory of knowledge. Feminism offers a change of perspective in theory of knowledge.

That view of Habermas was developed in the 1960s, when he rejected the Cartesian model of the disembodied subject and envisioned a community of knowers whose physical survival, relations with one another, and human development depended on their ability to gain different types of knowledge: the theoretical knowledge needed for efficient intervention into the natural world, the moral-practical knowledge needed to establish relations between persons, and the emancipatory knowledge needed to overcome social and psychological structures of power and repression.

Habermass work on knowledge and human interests was also an argument against a positivistic conception of awareness. He maintained that analytic philosophy of science had reduced to a sort of half-knowledge the historical-hermeneutic disciplines and the emancipatory knowledge produced through Marxian social theory and Freudian psychoanalysis. He expressed these criticisms within and against the traditions presumption, and his initial strategy was to expand the theory of knowledge to preclude the privileging of science.

Just as he maintained this stance of being within and against traditional assumptions, he id not take a radical feminist stance. He maintained his views about the virtue of equality, a value stressed by feminists. And yet, he did not join feminists in their struggle. He was moderate in his views. While Habermas did not dispute sciences claim to produce valid knowledge, he argued that science, and philosophy of science, had taken scientific norms as the basis not for one type of knowledge, but knowledge itself.

The epistemological approach Habermas took to the question of knowledge and human interests was useful in constructing a powerful, internal critique of philosophy of science, but he ecame convinced that epistemology could not take us very far beyond critique. He decided that solutions to the dilemmas he described could only be found through radical reconceptualization of epistemological issues, and he was particularly attentive to the need to rethink the model of subjectivity at the core of epistemology.

In his theory of communicative action, he offered a model of intersubjectivity as a way of generating understanding about how we acquire knowledge of all kindsknowledge of the natural world, but also of each other and of the self. This reconceptualization of his work on nowledge and human interests has been so radical that Habermass later theory is generally understood as having left his earlier work in epistemology behind completely.

Habermas continued to be motivated, in his later as in his earlier work, by strong resistance to the Eurocentric privileging of scientific rationality in whatever terms that privilege is expressedwhether the terms are social-economic, political, cultural, or philosophical. His resistance to a dominant scientific rationality is present in his attempt, in the theory of communicative action, to expand the concept of rationality to nclude relations between persons and relations with oneself (Fleming).

Thus, the nature of Habermass liberal ideas favor the sociology of gender and feminism as the basis of collecting date and knowledge. Habermas sketched an argument that various aspects of liberal and communitarian theory can be combined to support a universally shared civic culture, one which recognizes and accommodates cultural differences while at the same time provides a neutral public sphere in which various groups can communicate, compete, and carry on the democratic project. Comparable to his ideas about ulticulturalism is his view about feminism (Habermas, 1995).

Habermas showed tolerance toward feminism as a mini-culture that may peacefully combine with society to form a coherent unit of universality. Similar to Habermass stance on feminism that recognized the nature of its existence and yet did not give it as much importance as feminists deemed necessary, was his stance on the liberal and the communitarian positions in multiculturalism. He was critical of both and yet talked of their virtues. He was a true philosopher, one who analyzed, not took an extreme position either way.

Feminism is in favor of liberalism, and according to Habermas, liberalism does allow for an interpretation of equal rights that requires the state to grant the equal coexistence of majority and minority cultures; and that it should do so in terms of individual rights to cultural memberships of various sorts. (Habermas, 1995). Habermass usefulness to feminism is unsurpassed with regards to his suggestion that feminist issues can be settled within the frame of the constitutional state. He gave due recognition to feminism and encouraged tolerance toward it.

Habermas said, Turning to political themes, he idea of a “struggle for recognition” stems from Hegel’s Phenomenology. From this perspective, we can discover similarities among different but related phenomena: feminism, nationalism, conflict of cultures, besides the particular issue of multiculturalism. All these phenomena have in common the political struggle for the recognition of suppressed collective identities. This good is different from other collective goods. It cannot be substituted for by generalized social rewards (income, leisure time, working conditions, etc. which are the objects of the usual istribution conflicts in the welfare state.

But those struggles for recognition, fought in various forms of identity politics, are also different in many other respects. One such aspect is law: since of these groups only women and ethnic minorities have been recognized as objects of constitutional protection, only feminist and multiculturalist claims can be, at least in principle, settled within the frame of the constitutional state. (Habermas, 1995) Habermas expressed a strong commitment to the recognition of diversity within a reason-centered reading of the Enlightenment.

Feminist ethics has uestioned, like Fleming, the limits of and possibilities for the recognition of moral diversity within modern universalism. Despite Habermass strong commitment to the notion of equality and tolerance of diversity, he was ultimately said to be unable to maintain a balance between the poles of egalitarianism and universalism within the framework of Western rationality. As a result, he failed to recognize diversity fully (Jakobsen). In other words, he did not completely become a feminist although he was an advocate of tolerance toward feminism and equality of women.

Fraser and Nicholson saw the concerns of ostmodernism and feminism as so interrelated that they articulated a useful union of both: Feminists, like postmodernists, have sought to develop new paradigms of social criticism which do not rely on traditional philosophical underpinnings. They have criticized modern foundationalist epistemologies and moral and political theories, exposing the contingent, partial, and historically situated character of what has passed in the mainstream for necessary, universal, and ahistorical truths.

They have called into question the dominant philosophical project of seeking objectivity in the guise of a God’s eye view” which trancends any situation or perspective (Pinkus, 1996). They defined postmodernist feminism as, comparativist rather than universalist and attuned to changes and, and said that it contrasts instead of covering laws [and] would replace unitary notions of woman and feminine gender identity with plural and complexly constructed conceptions of social identity (Pinkus, 1996).

Fraser further suggested that a theory of discourse could help us understand at least four things, all of which are interrelated. These are: First, it can help us understand how people’s social identities are fashioned and altered over time. Second, it can help us understand how, under conditions of inequality, social groups in the sense of collective agents are formed and unformed. Third, a theory of discourse can illuminate how the cultural hegemony of dominant groups in society is secured and contested.

Fourth, and finally, it can shed light on the prospects for emancipatory social change and political practice (Pinkus, 1996). She proposed a pragmatic theoretical approach to overcome any tendency toward a total theory. Her approach in developing her postmodern feminism was based upon the works of many notable people including Habermas. Stephen White, in the spirit of postmodern feminism, tried to articulate a theory of justice which spoke a language of political and ethical engagement and questioned injustice. He advocated a reevaluation of the utility of Habermas’s communicative ethics.

What is need, White said, was an understanding of normative discourse from a viewpoint that encompasses how groups articulate and negotiate justifications of certain norms and shared values. Postmodern approaches provide a basis for this. Influenced by Habermas and also by extreme feminism, White pushed the liberal notion of tolerating diversity into a ostering of otherness which moves beyond the individualism of liberalism into a recognition of difference at an institutional level (Pinkus, 1996). Whites work stressing justice was an echo of Habermass values.

Thus, Habermass theory has been used by many feminists to articulate the sense of justice, equality and tolerance that forms the basis of feminism. Simone de Beauvoirs trenchant observation, “He is the Subject, and she is the Other,” sums up why the self is such an important issue for feminism. To be the other is to be the non-subject, the non-person, the non-agent – in short, the mere body (Feminist Perspectives, 2000). The cry of feminism is that in in law, in customary practice, and in cultural stereotypes, womens selfhood has been systematically subordinated, diminished, and belittled, when it has not been outright denied.

Feminist philosophy of the self reflects skepticism about modernist, unitary accounts of the self. In seeking to remedy the biases of the latter views, feminist philosophers emphasize features of selfhood that other philosophical schools neglect, including intersubjectivity, heterogeneity, and social construction. Some feminist philosophers express concern that these sorts of conceptions are detrimental to eminist aims. They just do not want women to be seen as independent as that is against their cry of feminism.

Influenced by Habermass balanced approached to feminism and his communicative ethics, Seyla Benhabib refused to join poststructuralists in declaring the death of the autonomous, self-reflective individual who is capable of taking responsibility and acting on principle (Benhabib, 1995). Although Benhabib, as a feminist, was committed to viewing people as socially situated, interpersonally bonded, and embodied, she was also committed to the feasibility of rational philosophical justification of universal moral norms.

Moreover, she argued that a narrative conception of the self renders the idea of a core self and coherent identity intelligible without suppressing difference and without insulating the self from social relations (Benhabib, 1999). Autobiographical stories may include the many voices within us and the many relationships we have experienced, and these stories are constantly under revision, for they are always being contested by our associates disparate self-narratives with their divergent versions of events.

Nevertheless, these narratives do not collapse into incoherence, and they presuppose a core capacity to escribe and reflect on ones experiences. For Benhabib, this view of selfhood and reason is indispensable to feminist emancipatory objectives, for if women can be seen as independent and are just suppressed, it may prove why feminism operates in the first place (Feminist Perspectives, 2000). Habermass theory can be said to play a needed balancing act within extremist feminism whereby feminism is not allowed to be based on some fake propaganda, but is based on reality.

Built on Habermass work, Jodi Deans Solidarity of Strangers is a welcome argument for reconstructing a conscious, deliberative solidarity (Dean, 1996). Her book is about the swirling academic and political debates over identity politics, multiculturalism, and what could bring us together in divisive times. It offered a strong, original, and humane defense of universalist ideals against doubts -which she deeply grasped and sympathetically arrayed – of the compatibility of such ideals with a respect for difference.

Deans complicated and important argument was an attempt to move beyond the either/or of identity politics and its critics via a creative reevaluation of universalism premised on difference and plurality. Calling for inspiration on Habermas, the author challenged onventional interpretive constraints on law and theory, aiming to open up contestable spaces to democratic practices. She offered the ideal of reflective solidarity as a vehicle for reclaiming a qualified notion of universality for feminism. Solidarity of Strangers was a crucial intervention in feminist debates.

Arguing for a solidarity rooted in a respect for difference, Dean, deeply influenced by Habermas, offered a broad vision of the shape of postmodern democracies that moves beyond the limitations and dangers of identity politics (Dean, 1996). The resulting influence shows how good Habermass influence has been on eminism. It has rendered the cause of feminism truer by eradicating its radical and unnatural aspects. Sartre’s model of feminism states that consciousness is used to reinforce class divisions.

But, class is dead,” said Habermas (Tzamalis). The premise of feminism maintains that reality is used to entrench the hegemony of capitalism over society. In From Dusk Till Dawn, Tarantino deconstructed feminism. Habermasian discourse implied that language is capable of truth. Therefore, Sartre used the term ‘feminism’ to denote the difference between society and sexual identity. Is feminism therefore, abnormal? Habermas offers the best solution: accept feminism to an extent. Tolerate it but do not turn it into propaganda.

If it already is propaganda, do not become a fanatic part of it. Put up with and talk of the best aspects of feminism, i. e. , women are different from men albeit equal to them. Habermas suggested the use of feminism to deconstruct hierarchy; in other words, he liked to use it as a tool to achieve universalism and equality. Instead of complaining so much, universalism, equality and tolerance should indeed be the basis of feminism and Habermass theory has played an excellent role in explaining this.

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