International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 4: Feminist historical materialist and critical theory
For feminists engaged in historical materialist and/or critical analyses of global politics, it is essential to understand the ways in which gender operates as a relation of social power in different times and places. The purpose of this chapter is to outline some of the theoretical terrain that underpins this view of gender as a social relation. Key to this literature is an emphasis on the necessity of analysing social, political and economic relations as a complex whole, or totality, rather than as separate parts. This emphasis on the social totality draws much inspiration from work in other areas of international relations (IR) and global political economy (GPE), particularly that within Marxist and (neo-)Gramscian traditions. Yet, in so far as the notion of the complex whole has been quite well established in much recent critical literature, outside of a relatively small (but growing) body of feminist literature, gender relations remain stubbornly on the ‘outside’ of this totality (Whitworth, 2006: 91). The dearth of critical analysis of gender relations is even more apparent in the mainstream literature, which tends to maintain the much longer-standing prioritisation of relations between states (IR) and/or between states and markets (GPE), with little room for considering gender – though ‘women’ do sometimes appear. As Jill Steans (1999) explains, while there are differences between feminist historical materialist and feminist critical theory traditions, in broad terms, both approaches are informed by a Marxist analysis of social relations, hegemonic structures and power.
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