Thursday, May 12, 2011
In today's independent there was discussion of the fact the evidence in 25 rape cases may be called into question because the nurse who carried out the examination of the victims was not registered with the HSE, as is officially required. The article condemns the HSE for allowing this to happen to the poor rape victims.
While I agree the fact a nurse is practicing without being properly registered with the HSE is troublesome, the real issue here is the fact that improper administration is grounds enough to undermine justice. How is the point of focus of a piece about the possibility of rape victims not being able to see justice the fact the HSE had an oversight with regard to bureaucracy and not the fact that our justice system would allow a slide in administration mean justice is forgone?
Today's society has become so obsessed with regulation and bureaucratization that a principle of objective value is taking a back to these methods of organization. Justice is one of the few moral goals that nobody can intelligibly deny is worthwhile. Even those who have reservations about equality as a societal goal can not dispute justice. Yet here we have a situation where, not only is our societal and judicial organization such that a bureaucratic discrepancy is set to undermine the justice these poor victims will see, but when the controversy is discussed by a journalist the main issue they took up from the situation is the fault of the HSE for allowing said discrepancy. Bureaucracy is a means by which we organize society to enable us to live together harmoniously. How can communal life be harmonious if justice gives way to a means of societal organization? Where is the value for justice?
Yes, the nurse should have been registered and yes it is wrong and problematic that they were not and were still able to practice nursing. However, is it not fair to assume that this nurse has been trained as a nurse and thus must be at least in some way competent in their role? If in fact it was the case that a person who is not a competent nurse was able to practice nursing unnoticed I may be more able to understand the possibility of this being a focus of the situation and even undermining justice. But, unless I understand the situation incorrectly, this is not the case and thus this cannot be where the real issue lies. It's a question of (what I would have thought to be fairly obvious) priorities.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
This essay will discuss the core assumptions of the neo-classical economic view and their feminist critiques. I will be focusing on the neo-classical view of rational economic man, specifically in comparing utility, unchanging preferences, domestic labour and the rational choice model. I will also consider some of the differences in views of macro-economic policy between the feminist perspective and the neo-classical perspective and their implications.
First I would like to consider the differing attitudes towards the implications of individual and societal factors on the economy of these two economic perspectives. Neoclassical economics believes that people are self-interested beings that make rational economic decisions to maximize individual utility. They also believe that the market is self-regulating. Left unhindered by government, individuals can optimize their opportunity to make rational decisions and under these conditions the economy will function and serve individuals best. They downplay the possibility of coercion and institutional injustice in the shaping of economic activity and trends. Feminists on the other hand believe that there are deeply ingrained injustices in the functioning of society and the economy that disadvantage large sections of the population, specifically women. They also disagree with the realism of the assumptions underlying the workings of the economy the neoclassical view leads to. “More specifically, it is argued that the neoclassical assumptions devalue the contributions typically made by, and the traits traditionally deemed appropriate for, women, and valorize the contributions usually made by, and the traits normally associated with, men.” (Hewiston, 1999: 70). As well as focusing on the affect and limitations the mainstream neoclassical view has on women, feminists also show concern for the wider social justice implications of this economic perspective.
At the core of the neoclassical economic view is rational economic man. Because goods and services are limited and wants of individuals are infinite economic man must make decisions to maximize his utility with the means he has. In making these decisions neoclassical economics sees the individual as a selfish being making rational decisions based solely on cost benefit analysis. The idea that this decision making individual could be motivated by compassion or altruism is dismissed. “The assumptions underpinning this representation of the neoclassical economic agent have been deemed androcentric by some feminist economists on the grounds that such an agent is a selfish, radically separate individual divested of those traits and uninvolved in those activities traditionally associated with women” (Hewiston/1999: 20). As well as the individual supposedly only being motivated by traditionally masculine traits he is also assumed to be a separate being not dependent on others. “The agent is depicted as an autonomous male who enters contracts to produce a civilized society, even though he is in fact dependent upon the caring but invisible activities of women, who are confined to the devalued and uninteresting sphere of natural functions” (Hewiston/1999: 20). This theory of the individual is problematic to feminists because by viewing the individual as having only masculine traits in decision making it’s not only biased against female economic actors, but devalues feminine traits. It ignores the fact that individuals, men as well as women, may act in more caring, less self-interested ways. It also renders invisible the silent caring work being done in the household and in society in general, which largely affects women and not men. As much as it is irrational to exclude a whole spectrum of possible motivators of behaviour, the neoclassical view also fails to realize that there might be (or indeed, there is) value and worth in the very traits they don’t even consider. Because this skewed, illogical view of individuals as calculating and completely independent beings underlies the understanding of the economy for neoclassicalists it has far-reaching and serious implications for how the economy is managed.
“Feminist economists have also challenged the wisdom of assuming that rational economic man’s preferences are exogenous and stable” (Hewiston/1999: 71). The view of preferences as completely independently constructed and unaffiliated with wider society has been criticized by others as well as feminists. Marxists argue that “environmentally-induced changes in preferences have a major bearing on economic outcomes and hence must be the subject of study.” (Hewiston/1999: 72). Feminists have constructed alternate theories of preferences. For example, “Lee Levin presents a theory of investment that takes into account the feminist insight that knowledge is socially and emotionally constituted” (Nelson/1996: 122). A lot of feminist economics focuses more on the gendered aspect of preferences, arguing that “even if preferences are fixed, economists should be interested in the formation of gendered preferences” (Hewiston/1999: 72). Gender is a pervasive part of a person’s identity and feminists hold that gender is socially constructed. In this way a person’s preferences are affected by their identity and thus, by gender and by society. Sen “argues that individuals have preferences over their own identities as well as goods and services, but that these preferences are both produced and constrained by institutions of socialization in a male-dominated society (Hewiston/1999: 72). Like gender roles themselves, this constraint on the individual’s construction of preferences affects men as well as women. England “argues that the assumption of independent utility functions conceals men’s altruism as well as that of women.” (Hewiston/1999: 73). As I said earlier, the faults in an economic view that ignore gender and social constraints on individuals is as incorrect when discussing male economic actors as it is for female economic actors.
Another issue feminists have with neoclassical economics’ views on preferences is that of the family unit. While the individual is seen as a selfish actor that makes rational decisions, the family unity is assumed to function with every member selflessly working to better the family as unit and maximize the utility of the family as a whole. “Utility functions are assumed to be interdependent in the home because of the existence of a benevolent dictator (the market worker) who ensures that everyone acts in the best interest of the family” (Hewiston/1999: 73). The proposed altruistic nature of the family is not accepted by feminists. Apart from the fact that in today’s society the family takes many different forms and a lot of the time has both parents involved in market labour, “the dichotomy of self-interest in the market and altruism in the home is both unrealistic and hides the power which men derive from their access to market earnings” (Hewiston/1999: 74). If we accept the neoclassical view of rational economic man it would seem only logical to assume that each family member is self interested and thus would not be willing to put aside their personal preferences for the good of the family unit. Although feminists do not accept the view of rational economic man they still argue “joint utility function, which is meant to represent the preferences of the family members, cannot be used to address the question of unequal bargaining power within households consisting of individuals with unique preferences” (Hewiston/1999: 74).
There is also the question of the value given to domestic labour. Domestic labour and caring roles are largely ignored in neoclassical economics as it is not considered work. “The exclusion of unpaid work at home, work that historically has been largely done by women, from calculations of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) serves to make such work invisible” (Nelson/1996: 118). Because the neoclassical definition of ‘work’ is that of market labour, domestic work is not included. Feminists argue that domestic labour must be considered and assigned the value it deserves as it functions to reproduce and maintain the workforce for the market, if nothing else. However, even though considering domestic labour work is obviously desirable for the fact it renders it visible and gives it some value, it is also problematic because of the limited and masculine definition of work by neoclassical economics. “Valuing domestic activities as ‘work’ marginalized the personal, relational, self-fulfilling and caring aspects of these activities to the point where they are forced into the background” (Hewiston/1999:76). This highlights how fundamental the differences between the neoclassical and feminist perspectives of the economy are. It is possible, and indeed some feminists are of the view that, the neoclassical perspective is inherently flawed and patriarchal and so no reworking or critique of this perspective will be sufficient.
Neoclassical economics is centered around utility maximization. However, they do not believe it is possible to compare utility gained by one individual to that of another because one cannot know the utility a good or service brings another person. This logic is guilty of the same issue we have already talked about with regard to neoclassical economics. That is, it does not consider a more emotional, typically ‘feminine’ approach to the problem. “England argues that a more reasonable assumption is that individuals can make interpersonal utility comparisons by assuming ‘the sort of emotional connection that facilitates empathy [which would mean] being able to imagine how someone else feels in a given situation’.” (Hewiston/1999: 71). Although this method may be somewhat imprecise I fail to see how it could not be better than no method whatsoever. The main issue with not being able to compare utility is that one cannot compare and evaluate needs and wants of individuals. This means issues of entitlement are rendered moot. We can see here how a masculine economic perspective reinforces masculine priorities in the organization of the economy. Where as a feminine economic perspective, employing a more empathetic method of understanding, lends itself to priorities of social justice and compassion.
The assumption of neoclassical economics that the market is self-regulating and focus on economic growth as an end rather than a means has implications for social policy. “Rather than looking at the balance of social power, they look only at the impact of macroeconomic policy on the rate of growth of GNP and the implications of growth for poverty.” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1352). Macroeconomic policies tend to focus solely on the rate of growth of GNP or GDP as opposed to including what kind of production this growth is coming from and who it is benefiting. “While growth is an important prerequisite for elimination of poverty, it is not a sufficient condition (UNDP, 1998a). The nature of growth and how a society translates the fruits of growth into increased well-being of its citizens is also critical” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1353). From a feminist perspective economic growth is only the means to an end, the end being social justice and equality. This perspective differs in the weight it gives to economic growth in isolation and the social implications of this growth. While neoclassical economics values economic growth in and of itself, feminist economics values it only in so far as it serves to better the standard of living of people and equality in society. In other words, from a feminist perspective “ ‘soundness of macroeconomic policies would be judged not on market-based criteria per se, but in terms of whether they ultimately succeed in bringing societies closer to achieving social justice” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1348).
The prevalence of neoclassical economics has led us to a world characterized by open economies and privatization. This means that in a lot of cases economies “sustainability of fiscal deficits is dependent upon the behavior of lenders in international markets.” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1354). This means that governments must prioritize their credibility in global financial markets instead of the domestic social impacts of monetary policy. Despite the fact that “Unequal social relations can themselves hamper the achievement of sustainable and high rates of growth.” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1353), this is also and issue to those who are subject to or care about entitlement failure. “There is entitlement failure when a person cannot establish sufficient command over resources for an adequate standard of living” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1354). When governments are forced to impose austerity cuts due to concern for their credibility in international financial markets these entitlement failures increase. Sen’s main conclusion is that a concern for price stability and avoidance of high inflation (financial conservatism) does not rule out the expansion of public provision of health care, education and social security; and a concern for deficit reduction does not justify user fees for public services, irrespective of the effects of such fees on the well-being and freedom of the entire population, and more especially the effects on the poor.” (Elson & Cagatay/2000: 1353). This is a clear example of how the views of neoclassical economics that lead to differing priorities from feminist economics manifest themselves in the social problems and inequalities that feminism is concerned with.
In sum, we can see that neoclassical economics and feminist economics are vastly different. They differ in their basic assumptions on the individual level with regard to what motivates economic actors. They differ in their view of how an individual’s preferences are shaped and how preferences can be compared between individuals. They differ in their understanding of the functioning of a family as a unit and what constitutes valuable ‘work’. They also have alternative perspectives on the priorities of economic policy and the method that should be used to solve social problems such as poverty. All of these differences, however, can be understood as stemming from differing basic values.
Neoclassical economics is inherently biased towards not just women, but feminine traits and ideals. This perspective ignores the typically feminine traits of compassion, empathy and altruism when considering the individual economic actor. It assumes an economic actor is motivated by selfishness and masculine rationality. It devalues feminine traits in relation to economic utility, prizing only that which leads to greater individual profit maximization despite the negative consequences this tends to have for society. Also, in typical male supremacy, it ignores the patriarchy and general injustice and inequality ingrained in social and economic institutions and the effect this has on the economy. It also ignores the socially constructed aspects of individual’s identities and the bearing this has on their actions and preferences.
While this masculinist view obviously disadvantages women, it also disadvantages men. It paints a hard and incomplete picture of them. The reinforcement of economic policies that stimulate economic growth at the expense of social justice has the worst implications for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Although this tends to have more of a bearing on women, the prioritisation of money over people affects everyone, men included. All in all apart from being unjust and leading to the reproduction of injustice in society, neoclassical economics is also based on inaccurate and incomplete assumptions. Feminist perspectives on the economy critique these inaccuracies and seek to compose a more complete view of the economy. They attempt to do this not just by focusing on women but by including and reevaluating feminine traits such as compassion and empathy and the priorities of social justice and entitlement that these lead to.
Elson & Cagatay, 2000, “The Social Content of Macroeconomic Policies”, United Nations Development Programme, New York and University of Machester, Uk, New York and University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA, Elsevier Science Ltd
Hewiston, 1999, Feminist Economics: Interrogating the Masculinity of Rational Economic Man, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Nelson, Julie A., 1996, Feminism, Objectivity and Economics, London, Routledge
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
To what extent are the cultural and social sphere autonomous from the state of political sphere in modern society?
Thomas Hobbes believed that in a state of nature, a state with no common power, people had unlimited freedom and rights. He also believed, however, that once a social contract was formed people gave up every right they had except the right to self-preservation. The only freedom under government in Hobbes’ view was where there was no law specified. In contrast John Locke believed in a state of nature, a state with no common judge, we also have unlimited freedom and rights but under a government we have the rights to life, liberty and property. Locke didn’t think government meant giving up freedom, he thought “the end of law is not to abolish or restrain but to preserve and enlarge freedom”(II 6 57, Locke, 1796). Personally, I would more agree with Hobbes. Law may guarantee safety but it does not guarantee freedom. No matter what type of government, it is placing restrictions on its citizens. These restrictions are meant for the good and safety of the citizens but whether they fuffill that goal or not they are still restrictions. One of the rights Locke believes is innate, even under government, is the right to property. He does not just mean this in the sense of material possessions but that our body and our self is our property. He argues “every man has a property in his person, so the labour of his body and work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.” (II Ch. 2.6-8, Locke, 1796) This does seem reasonable but if one puts it into the context of our modern society, a capitalist society, it becomes questionable. Although our labour, of course, should be our property it does not necessarily follow that it actually is. If you consider Marx’s theory of alienation, that we become alienated from our labour because in our modern capitalist society most people are forced to sell their labour to survive, we can see how a government not only poses restrictions upon us but also can even take away what may be a natural right. The only right that I could never see a possibility of being abolished by the state, if they so chose to do so, would be the right to survival.
So how is it that no one seems to have a problem with something like our right to property, as Locke means it, being taken away from us? Why is it that if people are supposedly free they do not question the injustices and inequality of their society? I believe the answer to this is socialization. People are undeniably affected by the society they live in. In Rousseau’s “Emile” he makes the point that for a person to be able to develop free of limitations, except those limitations that are physical, they would have to be taken out of society so as their imagination and mentality not be limited by the society they are in. I believe in our modern society this socialization results in people not questioning anything that is integral to the system in which they live and so they believe there’s no right being impeached. In my opinion, this is the only reason there could be for the fact people accept injustices and inequalities and things that make their life worse as natural and unchangeable. So, it would follow, that if the social sphere is in fact upholding a system of exploitation of most people it must be created by whomever this system and set of values is benefiting. In the case of our modern society this group would be the rich, the ones that aren’t being exploited by the system but are in fact gaining from it.
So to what extent do the social and cultural sphere, having been created by state and the ruling class, operate separately from them? In Gramsci’s concept of hegemony he argues that civil society reinforces the state, it contributes to the smooth running of the system and will act to uphold the state should it be threatened. The social and cultural spheres are part of an overall system that reinforces the state. They are never free of the control of those in power and politics, “this domination is not simply coercion or wealth; its ultimate sanction and expression of social authority is pervasive cultural supremacy.” (P.73, Weiner, 1981) Those in power have control not only of what we see in the media and what is acceptable in society but of the very way we view and interpret the world around us. Even movements against the system and deviance from social norms are only possible from within the restraints that have already been placed on our mentality by the dominant ideology. “As a constitutive cultural form and a structure of intentionality, ideology has the power to communicate and direct cognitions, evaluations, ideals, and purposes” (P. 75, Weiner, 1981). I believe the women’s movement or the civil rights’ movement are a good example of the power of ideology. These movements have achieved equality for women and people of different races in law but inequality still exists. Although technically in the political sphere sexism and racism have been dealt with to the most extent, in the social sphere they are still rampant. This is because the social sphere extends the political sphere. It was beneficial to those in power to promote the ideas that black people were less than white people and women should be submissive to men because those in power were white men. What suited them was to have black people as their slaves and women to satisfy their needs and run their household. So even now after women and black people’s freedom and rights have been won there is still the overlying ideology from these times past to be eroded and this takes a lot longer than it does to pass a law. The fact that racial discrimination and patriarchy are still such strong forces in our society shows the extent of the hold the dominant ideology has on our minds and consciousness.
So in conclusion I don’t believe we have the freedom to create our own social and cultural sphere and I don’t believe these spheres act independently of the political sphere. In fact I would be of the opinion that the cultural and social sphere are the most powerful tool the ruling class have to maintain their control. It is much easier and much more affective to rule with the consent of the people you’re ruling and what easier way to get people to think that you are justified in your right and ability to rule than by controlling the way they think?
Of course we have freedom of thought and so have the freedom to think critically about the world around us. And we may attempt to create an alternative culture and alternative ideology. I do not believe that the ruling class’s control over culture and society is absolute but it is very powerful. From the age of four until the age of 18 anyone who is going to have any real function, part or power in society is in the education system. This system is one of passive learning. It’s a system that teaches you to accept what you are told as fact, to learn off information and regurgitate it. Those in power have chosen even the information that you are being taught for you. The first time a person is introduced to critical thinking is almost always in third level education. This means that, first of all, not all of the population even comes into contact with the idea of critical thinking and, second of all, those who do have already spent eighteen years (including the years of their life in which they do the most social learning) being socialized to accept and not question the system they live in. This means that by the time an individual is in the position to attempt to create an alternative culture or view of the world the ruling class’s hold on their views is already very strong. And so any alternative culture or lifestyle they may create will be limited and affected by the dominant culture and ideology of the ruling class and thus could not be considered created completely free from it. Also if any alternative culture or ideology is successfully created it will still have to function and exist in a world where there is already an ideology dominant in society and ingrained in the minds of the citizens and so it could never be considered autonomous.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
It is a relatively widely held view in today's society that there is no further need for feminism. Women have acheived equality and anyone who still considers themselves a feminist is a man-hater just looking to put men down and give women the advantage. Although this is (atleast mostly) very untrue I am not at all surprised this view has gainec the currency it has today.
When feminism started out it focused on women out of neccesity. We had no dicernable independence what so ever and our liberation and equality was, I would even go as far to say, all that mattered. However, this is not the situation we are in now. On paper we have most of the rights men do. Although there are some issues left to be dealt with about policy and legislation, for the most part the fight now is in people's attitudes and society. But this fight is not just a struggle for women or about women anymore, men are just as oppressed and just as responsible for liberation from this oppression. A lot of the negative male attitudes towards women that are a source of female oppression (and anger) are a product of the gender role men are forced into. If we tackle male oppression we will simultaneously be fighting against the oppression of women. Everything is relative. If there was no man there wouldn't be a woman because the differentiation wouldn't need to be made. So fighting solely for the liberation of one sex is pointless. You can not liberate one sex without liberating the other at the same time. The two gender roles in modern society are interdependant, they cause and affect eachother.
I think as a result of what the fight for equality between the sexes has already won we are at a point now where focusing solely or even primarily on women is no longer advantageous. We need now to focus on gender as a restricting force in and of itself regardless of sex. If the movement can be directed (or more realistically recreated and then directed) in this direction we will cover new ground of benefit to both sexes and thus all of society. It is unreasonable to expect men to be bothered to get involved in a movement that intentionally marginalises them. Why wouldn't they leave it to women to fight for their own liberation? If we, however, look at the bigger picture (or in my opinion reality) men need liberation from gender roles just as much as women do and more importantly women's liberation cannot be achieved with out the participation and liberation of men.
For a struggle against sexism feminism is terribley sexist.