10th Nicos Poulantzas Memorial Lecture with Nancy Fraser

Nancy Fraser, Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School for Social Research of New York gave the keynote entitled the “Crisis of Care? On the Social Reproductive Contradictions of Financialized Capitalism” at the 10th Annual Nicos Poulantzas Memorial Lecture.

The event opened with a short address by Dina Vaiou, Professor at the Department of  Urban and Regional Planning at the National Technical University of Athens and President of Nicos Poulantzas Institute, who emphasized on the topicality of the lecture’s topic in the framework of the current social and political juncture.
Afterwards, Maria Karamesini, Professor of Economics of Labour and Social Policy at the Department of Social Policy in Panteion University and member of the board of Nicos Poulantzas Institute presented the speaker and her work. During the presentation of the speaker, Maria Karamesini pointed out that Nancy Fraser through her work that focuses on the social and political theory, the feminist theory and the philosophy of the social sciences, contributed significantly, through numerous books and articles, both in the theoretical dialogue and the political practice of the feminist movement, since she developed, in her early works, a critical socialist feminist theory.  At the same time, she highlighted her political action through her militancy in the Left and the feminist movement.
In her later works, namely since the mid 1990’s, Karamesini noticed that Fraser developed a theory of justice that cohesively incorporates the discussions and the practices regarding the redistribution of the resources and the goods, as they were uttered through the struggles and the demands against the exploitation and the deprivation of commodities and for the recognition of diversity in a global level. Her theory of justice adopted a clear stance towards the essentialist perception of things that characterizes the movements which remain attached to “identity politics”.
Thus, Fraser completed her theory on justice through a triptych of concepts: redistribution, recognition, representation. In her latest work under the title “Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis”, Fraser proceeds to a review of the second feminist wave and questions the New Left’s imperative as well as the fortune of the radical ideas that were born in a critique of the movements that emerged in the late 1960’s at a global level.
Nancy Fraser began her speech by stressing the significance of the annual organization of the Nicos Poulantzas Memorial Lecture and emphasized on the fact that the term “crisis of care” must be placed into inverted commas, since she believes that it refers to the difficulties we face in the current juncture and how these transcend the domestic and family environment, since they are crucial and fundamental elements in the existing restructuring of the capitalist system. In this way, she is not referring only to the feminists, but also to all those who are placing themselves to the Left and they are interested in the critique of capitalism. Therefore, instead of the “crisis of care” that constitutes a major aspect of the capitalist crisis, she argued that she wanted to speak about the crisis of social reproduction, since there is no society that can survive through such a crisis that is inflamed by the capitalist system itself and being impossible to be overtaken in combination with the ecological, political and financial crisis. She claimed that a deeply established contradiction into the capitalist function triggers inherently the crisis of the social reproduction, while the social reproduction is a basic precondition for the very existence and the accumulation of the capital from the one hand, and on the other hand capitalism aims at the limitless accumulation of the capital by ignoring the undermining and the destabilization of the preconditions and the procedure of the social reproduction.
After she scrupulously presented this contradiction as the root cause of the capitalist crisis of the social reproduction, she also proceeded to a review of this contradiction’s development in the previous stages of capitalism: the liberal capitalism of the 19th century and the state – managed capitalism throughout the mid-20th century, focusing on the relation between the social reproduction and the economic reproduction that has been neglected within the Left. The regime of the liberal competitive capitalism of the 19th century, with the labour exploitation in Europe and the colonial expropriation in the periphery tends to leave the workers being reproduced “autonomously”, outside the market and the circulation of money and creates a civil imaginary for the domestic life, where two distinct spheres between the two genders exist and where the field of the social reproduction falls on the shoulders of the women. In the regime of the state-managed capitalism of the 20th century that was based on the large scale capitalist production and consumerism and in which social reproduction is internalized, while the states are taking charge of the welfare for the whole society and the ideal of the breadwinner’s salary is being created. In the present regime, the neoliberal, globalised and financialized model, the state and corporate disinvestment from the social welfare was imposed by shifting responsibility of the care onto local communities and family, while at the same time it weakens them.
The social reproduction is commercialized for those who can afford it and is privatized for those who cannot in the guise of the contemporary ideal of family with the two employees and the two salaries.
Fraser focused particularly on the contention between the forces of the social reproduction, the marketization and the emancipation that mark the historical process of the capitalist system and the need to critically examine the current regime, the neoliberal financial capitalism. This regime, through the tool of debt and the imposition of austerity policies deprives commodities from large sections of the population undermining the very process of the social reproduction, since it deepens and intensifies the contradiction between the social and the economic reproduction on the pretext of emancipation.
The conjunction of the emancipatory forces with the market forces that oppose the gender, racial and religious prioritization are not in the benefit of those who are deprived of basic commodities. This generates, according to Fraser, the paradox she calls “progressive neoliberalism” that divides society by redefining the term “emancipation” based on neoliberal ideals and by exploiting the movements concerning gender, a concept that is essential for the process of social reproduction. New Left must overcome the subordination of the social reproduction to the economic one so neither the emancipation, nor the social protection to be sacrificed. This can only be achieved through a reinvention of the established order concerning gender.
Translated by Angelina Giannopoulou
Note: The 10th Annual Nicos Poulantzas Memorial Lecture took place on 7 December 2016 in the welcoming Amphitheatre of the Goethe Institute in Athens.