Nancy Fraser

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Nancy Fraser
Born (1947-05-20) 20 May 1947 (age 68)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Critical theory,
Feminist philosophy
Institutions The New School
Main interests
Political philosophy

Nancy Fraser (born 20 May 1947) is an American critical theorist, currently the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at The New School in New York City. Fraser earned her PhD in philosophy from the CUNY Graduate Center and taught in the philosophy department at Northwestern University for many years before moving to the New School. In addition to her many publications and lectures, Fraser is a former Co-editor of Constellations, an international journal of critical and democratic theory, where she remains an active member of the Editorial Council.[2]


Fraser is a noted feminist thinker concerned with conceptions of justice in the tradition of feminist thinkers like Martha Fineman. She argues that justice is a complex concept which must be understood from the standpoint of three separate yet interrelated dimensions: distribution (of resources), recognition (of the varying contributions of different groups), and representation (linguistic). She believes that as blank slate theory becomes increasingly marginalised by advances in genetics, Marxists should refocus their efforts on the espousal of blind redistribution over more equitable concepts of social justice such as those advocating the need for different groups to make concrete contributions to society.

In Fortunes of Feminism, 2013, Fraser regards Marxist theory as being concerned with distribution. In New Left Review, 86, March/April 2014, she rediscovers Marx’s definition of capital as a social relationship between those with means of production and those who can only gain access to means of production by selling their ability to work. But she does not incorporate production where different social relations prevail – in the household, the community, and the public sector – into the economy as a whole.

In keeping with her quest to avoid reductive conceptions of issues such as justice and democratic participation, she also argues that social theorists should synthesize elements of critical theory and post-structuralism, overcoming the "false antithesis" between the two,[3] in order to gain a fuller understanding of the social and political issues with which both approaches are concerned.

However, Fraser is not advocating a vague confusion of the two, but rather a pragmatic approach in which each school of thought is rigorously interrogated in order to separate its useful from its non-useful or detrimental elements for a democratic analysis of societal institutions and social movements. Thus Fraser is squarely in the tradition of left-democratic values while accommodating within this tradition the more recent insights of feminist theories, critical theory, and post-structuralism.

Fraser was also one of the first English-speaking philosophers to do important work on Foucault.


Fortunes of Feminism[edit]

Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis is a collection of essays written from 1985 to 2010[4] that aims at dissecting the “drama in three acts” that according to the author is the thread of second-wave feminism.[5] Act one represents the moment when the feminist movement joined radical movements to transform society through uncovering gender injustice and capitalism’s androcentrism, while act two, Fraser highlights with regret, is a switch from redistribution to recognition and difference and a shift to identity politics that risk to support neoliberalism through efforts to build a free market society.[4][5] Foreseeing act three as a revival of the movement, Fraser argues for a reinvigorated feminist radicalism able to address the global economic crisis.[6] Feminism must be a force working in concert with other egalitarian movements in the struggle to bring the economy under democratic control, while building on the visionary potential of the earlier waves of women’s liberation.[4][6]

The work is considered an important contribution as it provides a clear frame to rethink issues related to labour, emancipation, identity, rights claims at the core of political demands of justice in the contemporary context of neoliberism.[5] Although a necessary incorporation of political economy into contemporary feminist discourse,[7] Fraser’s use theoretical schemas has been criticized as dense and baffling at times—it is unclear, for example, why there are three types of needs discourses, four registers of dependency, or seven principles of gender justice. M. E. Mitchell, writer for Marx & Philosophy, writes “This [complexity] is, perhaps, owing to her propensity to avail herself of whatever terms best encapsulate processes of institutionalized oppression. Thinking thus, from the ground up, gives her work a complexity that at times compromises the systematic quality and coherence of her theoretical categories.”[8]

Unruly Practices[edit]

Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory is a collection of essays written between 1980 and 1989.[9] The book examines the theories of power and source in Foucault, the politics of French deconstruction and Richard Rorty, the politics of gender in Habermas, and the politics of need interpretation in two concluding essays which delineate her own position within contemporary socialist-feminist critical theory.[10] Contemporaries such as Douglas Kellner have praised Fraser’s writings as “seasoned with social hope”[10] and effectively synthesizing feminist commitment to political agency and social progress with several forms of modern and postmodern social scepticism; however, her goals of providing “the sort of big diagnostic picture necessary to orient [the current] political practice” of socialist feminism[9] have been criticized for being too ambitious and ultimately narrow in their execution. Patricia S. Mann summarizes the pitfalls of the text:

I wish Fraser had made more of an effort to call upon the resources of analytic philosophy. It is true that analytic philosophers look all the way back to Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham for their paradigms of analytic philosophy. Unfazed because untouched by these notions of social constitution of individuals, or by the irrationalities of individual thought, philosophy offers an outmoded yet still seaworthy vessel for any seeking to ride out the storms of postmodern disillusionment with notions of agency and process. Had Fraser utilized the works of analytic political thinkers when she finally came to formulate her socialist-feminist theory of the welfare state she could have exploited the admittedly “thin” theories of political agency and political rights within political philosophy today.[11]


  • Fraser, Nancy (1989). Unruly practices: power, discourse, and gender in contemporary social theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816617784. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (1997). Justice interruptus: critical reflections on the "postsocialist" condition. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415917940. 
  • Fraser, Nancy; Honneth, Axel (2003). Redistribution or recognition?: A political-philosophical exchange. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9781859844922. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (2009). Scales of justice: reimagining political space in a globalizing world. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231519625. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (2013). Fortunes of feminism: from state-managed capitalism to neoliberal crisis. Brooklyn, New York: Verso Books. ISBN 9781844679850. 
  • Fraser, Nancy; et al (author); Nash, Kate (editor) (2014). Transnationalizing the Public Sphere. Cambridge, UK Malden, Massachusetts: Polity Press. ISBN 9780745650586. 
  • Fraser, Nancy; Boltanski, Luc; Corcuff, Philippe (2014). Domination et émancipation, pour un renouveau de la critique sociale (in French). Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon. ISBN 9782729708863. 
Edited books and select contributions to edited volumes
  • Fraser, Nancy; Bartky, Sandra Lee (1992). Revaluing French feminism: critical essays on difference, agency, and culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253206824. 
  • Fraser, Nancy; Benhabib, Seyla; Butler, Judith; Cornell, Drucilla (1995). Feminist contentions: a philosophical exchange. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415910866. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (1998), "From redistribution to recognition? Dilemmas of justice in a "post-socialist" age", in Willett, Cynthia, Theorizing multiculturalism: a guide to the current debate, Malden, Massachusetts: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 19–49, ISBN 9780631203421. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (1998), "A rejoinder to Iris Young", in Willett, Cynthia, Theorizing multiculturalism: a guide to the current debate, Malden, Massachusetts: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 68–72, ISBN 9780631203421. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (author); Olson, Kevin (editor) (2008). Adding insult to injury: Nancy Fraser debates her critics. London New York: Verso. ISBN 9781859842232. 
  • Fraser, Nancy; Rockhill, Gabriel; Gomez-Muller, Alfredo (2011). Politics of culture and the spirit of critique dialogues. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231151870. 
  • Fraser, Nancy (2013). Fortunes of feminism: from state-managed capitalism to neoliberal crisis. Brooklyn, New York: Verso Books. ISBN 9781844679843. 
Journal articles

List of awards and honors[edit]

  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication and Faculty of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2014.[12]
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Universidad Nacional de San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2014.
  • International Research Chair in Social Justice, Collège d’études mondiales, Paris, 2011-2016
  • Senior Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies “Justitia Amplificata,” Frankfurt, 2013.
  • Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Fellow, November–December 2012.
  • Einstein Visiting Fellow, JFK Institute for American Studies, Frei Universität, Berlin, 2010-2012.
  • Humanitas Visiting Professor in Women's Rights, University of Cambridge, UK, March 2011
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Roskilde University, Denmark, 2011.
  • Donald Gordon Fellow, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, South Africa, 2011.
  • Alfred Schutz Prize in Social Philosophy, American Philosophical Association, 2010.
  • Chaire Blaise Pascal, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, 2008-2010
  • Awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa, by the National University of Cordoba (Argentina), 2006.


  1. ^ Fraser, Nancy (1989), "Foucault on Modern Power: Empirical Insights and Normative Confusions" in N. Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. ^ "About Constellations." Constellations Journal. The New School, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. Fraser, Nancy (2013). Fortunes of feminism: from state-managed capitalism to neoliberal crisis. Brooklyn, New York: Verso Books.
  3. ^ Fraser, Nancy (1997), "False Antitheses: A Response to Seyla Benhabib and Judith Butler", in N. Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the "Postsocialist" Condition, New York: Routledge.
  4. ^ a b c Fraser, Nancy (2013). Fortunes of feminism: from state-managed capitalism to neoliberal crisis. Brooklyn, New York: Verso Books.
  5. ^ a b c Gribaldo, Alessandra. "Book Review: Nancy Fraser, Fortunes of Feminism." Sociologia, Università Di Trento, Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Fortunes of Feminism." Verso. Verso Books, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
  7. ^ Schwartz, Madeleine. "Kicking Back, Not Leaning In." Dissent. Dissent Magazine, Summer 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
  8. ^ Mitchell, M. E. "Fortunes of Feminism - Review by M E Mitchell - Marx & Philosophy Review of Books." Marx and Philosophy. Marx & Philosophy Society, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
  9. ^ a b Fraser, Nancy. Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1989. Print.
  10. ^ a b Kellner, Douglas. "Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices." Radical Philosophy Review of Books (1992): Philosophy Documentation Center. Radical Philosophy Review of Books. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
  11. ^ Mann, Patricia S. "Reviewed Work: Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory." Hypatia 6.2 (1991): 225-28. JSTOR. Hypatia. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
  12. ^ "Fraser, Nancy." The New School for Social Research. The New School, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Further reading[edit]

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