Term Paper: Sociology - Theories Feminists and Social Theory

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Sociology - Theories

Feminists and social theory

As Smith asserts in Knowing Society form within: a Women's Standpoint (1994), many sociological analyses of society have an innate bias in that they view society from a certain determinate position. (Smith 389) in other words, what Smith and others are suggesting is that the purely objective stance of sociological theory is a myth and there are in fact endemic and intrinsic biases within sociological theory that requires analysis and deconstruction. Smith refers particularly to the hegemony of the male viewpoint in sociological theory. She therefore suggests an "... alternative way of thinking Sociology" (Smith 389). However, Smith also make it clear that she is not interested in "junking" or dismissing the various theoretical stances but in suggesting a more realistic and inclusive way of interpreting the objective data that presents itself for sociological study. This refers in particular to the issue of the marginalization of women.

A factor that links Smith's views to other theorists and particularly writings on the female experience in society is her contention that society cannot be understood from the "outside," but that a true perception and understanding of situation of women in society can only be obtained for within the everyday perceptions of women in society. In this light, social context become an important aspect in sociological theory.

Smith's theoretical stance therefore makes an important contribution to the more subjectivist view of sociological theory. This refers to a relativistic and comparative approach to theory. Smith asserts as well that, "An alternative sociology must preserve in it the presence, concerns and experience of the sociologist as knower and discoverer" (Smth 389). She therefore emphasizes the importance of "direct experience" as a central focus to which theoretical perceptions should continually refer. (Smith 390) in this view, experience should not be seen in a simplistic or purely subjective sense but should be a means of rediscovering and in fact problematizing the social construction of reality. Smith therefore stresses a theoretical stance in sociology which takes into account different views and perceptions - particularly the feminist perspective. In this sense she objects to the notion of a "privileged" sociology which denies certain substructures to "speak" from their point-of-view. (Smith 390)

This view of sociology tends to concur with the views expressed by other write and feminist theorists. Virginia Woolf in her essay a room of one's own describes the situation of women in modern society and stresses the difficult position of women in relation to the demands of a largely patriarchic society. In this work she refers to the different perceptions of bias and prejudice that a women in society at the time experienced; for example, in her meeting on the path with the Beadle and the immediate distinction that is made between male and female social privilege. This can be related directly to the point made by Smith, that sociology should become more aware of direct experiences of this nature that have been 'marginalized' in the past.

The idea of emancipated culture that we find in conjunction to Woolf's work is one where the differences between the sexes will no longer be a factor that acts as an agent for discrimination. In fact Woolf was revolutionary for her time in her thinking. She realized that an emancipated culture where there would be equality for the sexes would also mean equality in terms of practical and material access to resources in the society. She was also aware that the present society had to large degree stifled and warped the real nature of human being, which she felt was psychologically androgynous. This meant that for a fully emancipated culture to become a reality, both man and women should be able to express there natures without discrimination of any kind - and this also meant that men should be able to express their inner feminine side.

In essence her work emphasizes the fact that the society in which she lived and experienced as a women had been dominated by the rules of patriarchy and that these rules were distorting both male and female identity. An emancipated culture would mean the full realization of the male and female identity within every person. Her work therefore strongly highlights the views put forward by Smith and others about the innate bias in society and towards women that resides in the objective disciplines.

Patricia Hill Collins is a theorist who also reveals the underlying prejudices within male-dominated society from a perspective that emphasizes both race and gender. Central to much of her work is the emphasis on the importance of knowledge in the Black woman's fight against the hegemony of race and gender oppression. Her work also deals with a central theme in Afrocentric feminist thought, which emphasizes that independence and the fight against oppression requires an understanding of the importance of knowledge. Knowledge therefore becomes an agent for social change.

In a similar vein to Woolf and in the light of Smith's call for a more subjective and experiential view of society, the work of Collins also asserts that from an experiential point-of-view the Black women is subjected to the 'male gaze' in a white patriarchal society. Her work therefore also deals with the meaning of gender as it is socially constructed and shaped by white male considerations.

Collins and Woolf open up the subjective experience of women in society and therefore also stress the need for a more insightful and relevant perception of social realities. These accord with the views put forward by Smith that society must move away from an "objective" theoretical position which is very often a reflection of a biased stance that privileges and favors certain positions and perspectives that obscure the social reality.

Frazer and the logic of redistribution and equality

The drive towards the logic of equality in politics and social theory is contrasted and even contradicted to a certain extent by the movement towards independence and cultural identity in the face of economic and cultural hegemonies in the word. These hegemonies also revolve around the issues of race, gender and cultural plurality.

Nancy Fraser in her article entitled, From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a "Post -Socialist' Age (1995), states that the struggle for recognition and identity is becoming an intrinsic and paradigmatic form of political and social conflict in the contemporary environment. However, at the same time material inequalities are increasing in many regions of the world, including in the developed countries. This refers to the possible demise of the more traditional socialist imperative of the redistribution of wealth and resources.

Fraser goes on to state that in many areas of theoretical concern the new focus on cultural equality and identity is in contrast with the logic of material redistribution. On the one hand this movement towards the logic of identity reassesses the "blindness of a materialist paradigm" (Fraser 1). Fraser however feels that neither of these viewpoints or theoretical stances are adequate in themselves.

In her view, these stances have important aspects to contribute and she calls for a new mode of thinking in social and political theory that would allow for both these stances to exist and coalesce. This refers to a theoretical stance, "...which identifies and defends only those versions of the cultural politics of difference that can be coherently combined with the social politics of equality" (Fraser 1). In essence Fraser states that justice in the contemporary world is a combination of both recognition and redistribution. Her rationale is to theorize and develop strategies that would combine these two strands without undermining or undervaluing either. This would enable a theoretical and critical framework that "...is adequate to the demands of our age" (Fraser 2).

However, Fraser also notes the complexity of the problem of combining the perspectives of redistribution and equality. She therefore limits her analysis to certain pertinent questions; such as, under what circumstances can a politics of recognition help support a politics of redistribution? Fraser therefore intends to resolve this antimony between redistribution and cultural equality by analytically abstracting and delineating these issues from the " real world," in order to create various conceptual insights that can help to reveal and illuminate the central issues at stake.

Among the methods that Fraser uses to analyze this issue is the clear formulation of what she terms the redistribution - recognition dilemma and by identifying those aspects of social collectivity that are most vulnerable to this dilemma. In other words, she outlines in detail the differences and especially the theoretical antecedents that underlie the stances of redistribution and cultural inequality. Her analysis is aimed at showing not only these differences but also suggesting areas of mutual integration and dependence. Lastly, she suggests a political strategy that results from this analysis that would allow for the integration of both recognition claims and redistribution with the least possible amount of interference or ambiguity.

Frazer does not avoid the fact that a distinction between these two groups is a seemingly impossible task to achieve. In… [END OF PREVIEW]

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