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Making Feminism Matter Again

Cotter, Jennifer M. (2007) Making Feminism Matter Again. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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"Making Feminism Matter Again" analyzes new shifts in gender and their social representations in feminist theory. I take as my point of departure the "crisis" of feminism and the loss of its explanatory and transformative effectivity in the wake of the cultural turn, which, I argue, was a class development in feminism brought on by the economic crisis of profit in capitalism in the late 20th century. I question its main assumptions of gender, articulated in texts by Derrida, Foucault, Negri, Fraser, Butler, Gibson-Graham, Sandoval, Probyn, Wiegman, Felski and others, for the way they culturally rewrite materialist concepts such as "class," "division of labor," "ideology," and "history" and represent cultural shifts in gender as "constitutive" of material change—and ultimately as progress—for women within capitalism. "Making Feminism Matter Again" re-examines the historical significance of cultural shifts, including shifts in feminist theory as well as new gendered forms of work ("caring" and "service labor"), family, consumption, diet, clothing, sexuality, and love. In analyzing gender now, I demonstrate that culturalism analytically dissolves gender into autonomous differences and "ethics," and uses cultural values to obscure over the crisis of transnational capitalism's class relations and deepening economic exploitation of women. As a result, cultural feminisms are not an intervention but an affirmation of the way things are. I argue for a historical materialist theory of gender in the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontai, Eleanor Leacock, and such contemporary critics as Angela Davis, Delia Aguilar, Elizabeth Armstrong, and Teresa Ebert, which shows that permutations in gender are not new because the wage-labor/capital relations that exploit women have not changed. Instead the changes are an updating of gender to adjust women to changes in the division of labor under which surplus-value is extracted. In the intersection of labor theory and cultural theory, "Making Feminism Matter Again" maps the material relations of gender now. This map is also a materialist re-mapping of feminist theory and the development of a new model for a materialist analytics of gender as a way to contribute to restoring the explanatory and transformative effectivity of feminism now.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Cotter, Jennifer
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLandy, Marcia
Committee MemberFoley, Barbara
Committee MemberClarke, Eric
Committee MemberArac, Jonathan
Date: 20 June 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 April 2007
Approval Date: 20 June 2007
Submission Date: 27 April 2007
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Critical Theory; Cultural Studies; Feminism; Feminist Theory; Marxism; Women's Studies
Other ID:, etd-04272007-040719
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:42
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:42


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