Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Princeton University Press
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In Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory, Nancy Hirschmann demonstrates not merely that modern theories of freedom are susceptible to gender and class analysis but that they must be analyzed in terms of gender and class in order to be understood at all. Through rigorous close readings of major and minor works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill, Hirschmann establishes and examines the gender and class foundations of the modern understanding of freedom. Building on a social constructivist model of freedom that she developed in her award-winning book The Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom, she makes in her new book another original and important contribution to political and feminist theory.

Despite the prominence of "state of nature" ideas in modern political theory, Hirschmann argues, theories of freedom actually advance a social constructivist understanding of humanity. By rereading "human nature" in light of this insight, Hirschmann uncovers theories of freedom that are both more historically accurate and more relevant to contemporary politics. Pigeonholing canonical theorists as proponents of either "positive" or "negative" liberty is historically inaccurate, she demonstrates, because theorists deploy both conceptions of freedom simultaneously throughout their work.

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About the author

Nancy J. Hirschmann is the R. Jean Brownlee Endowed Term Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her book The Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom (Princeton) won the 2004 Victoria Schuck Award for the best book on women and politics from the American Political Science Association.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 11, 2009
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9781400824168
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Political
Political Science / American Government / State
Political Science / History & Theory
Social Science / Feminism & Feminist Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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This book reconsiders the dominant Western understandings of freedom through the lens of women's real-life experiences of domestic violence, welfare, and Islamic veiling. Nancy Hirschmann argues that the typical approach to freedom found in political philosophy severely reduces the concept's complexity, which is more fully revealed by taking such practical issues into account.

Hirschmann begins by arguing that the dominant Western understanding of freedom does not provide a conceptual vocabulary for accurately characterizing women's experiences. Often, free choice is assumed when women are in fact coerced--as when a battered woman who stays with her abuser out of fear or economic necessity is said to make this choice because it must not be so bad--and coercion is assumed when free choices are made--such as when Westerners assume that all veiled women are oppressed, even though many Islamic women view veiling as an important symbol of cultural identity.


Understanding the contexts in which choices arise and are made is central to understanding that freedom is socially constructed through systems of power such as patriarchy, capitalism, and race privilege. Social norms, practices, and language set the conditions within which choices are made, determine what options are available, and shape our individual subjectivity, desires, and self-understandings. Attending to the ways in which contexts construct us as "subjects" of liberty, Hirschmann argues, provides a firmer empirical and theoretical footing for understanding what freedom means and entails politically, intellectually, and socially.

Since the election of Scott Walker, Wisconsin has been seen as ground zero for debates about the appropriate role of government in the wake of the Great Recession. In a time of rising inequality, Walker not only survived a bitterly contested recall that brought thousands of protesters to Capitol Square, he was subsequently reelected. How could this happen? How is it that the very people who stand to benefit from strong government services not only vote against the candidates who support those services but are vehemently against the very idea of big government?

With The Politics of Resentment, Katherine J. Cramer uncovers an oft-overlooked piece of the puzzle: rural political consciousness and the resentment of the “liberal elite.” Rural voters are distrustful that politicians will respect the distinct values of their communities and allocate a fair share of resources. What can look like disagreements about basic political principles are therefore actually rooted in something even more fundamental: who we are as people and how closely a candidate’s social identity matches our own. Using Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s prominent and protracted debate about the appropriate role of government, Cramer illuminates the contours of rural consciousness, showing how place-based identities profoundly influence how people understand politics, regardless of whether urban politicians and their supporters really do shortchange or look down on those living in the country.

The Politics of Resentment shows that rural resentment—no less than partisanship, race, or class—plays a major role in dividing America against itself.
This book reconsiders the dominant Western understandings of freedom through the lens of women's real-life experiences of domestic violence, welfare, and Islamic veiling. Nancy Hirschmann argues that the typical approach to freedom found in political philosophy severely reduces the concept's complexity, which is more fully revealed by taking such practical issues into account.

Hirschmann begins by arguing that the dominant Western understanding of freedom does not provide a conceptual vocabulary for accurately characterizing women's experiences. Often, free choice is assumed when women are in fact coerced--as when a battered woman who stays with her abuser out of fear or economic necessity is said to make this choice because it must not be so bad--and coercion is assumed when free choices are made--such as when Westerners assume that all veiled women are oppressed, even though many Islamic women view veiling as an important symbol of cultural identity.


Understanding the contexts in which choices arise and are made is central to understanding that freedom is socially constructed through systems of power such as patriarchy, capitalism, and race privilege. Social norms, practices, and language set the conditions within which choices are made, determine what options are available, and shape our individual subjectivity, desires, and self-understandings. Attending to the ways in which contexts construct us as "subjects" of liberty, Hirschmann argues, provides a firmer empirical and theoretical footing for understanding what freedom means and entails politically, intellectually, and socially.

Even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, political scientists were assessing changes and continuities in the principles and practices of American democracy. Recent events, including the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act and the current debates about civil liberties versus homeland security, intensify the need to examine the long-term viability of democracy.

In this book, fifteen major scholars assess the current state of American democracy, offering a spirited dialogue on the future of democratic politics. Contributors focus on three principles fundamental to democracy—equality, liberty, and participation. They examine these principles within the context of the basic institutions of American democracy: Congress and the state legislatures, the president, political parties, interest groups, and the Supreme Court.  They raise questions regarding the checks and balances among formal governmental institutions (with the contributors sharing concern over the fading power of the legislature and the increased power of the executive and judiciary) as well as the role of political parties and interest groups.

Topics discussed include: the incomplete mobilization of the electorate, the debates over campaign finance reform and term limits, the Supreme Court’s activist role in the Florida recount, the dangers of teledemocracy and state initiatives, the separation of political participation from residential location, “identity politics,” the clash of "negative" and "positive" liberty, and the prospects for personal freedom in an era of terrorist threats.

This timely collection covers the issues relevant to the future of American democracy today not only for lawmakers, students, and historians, but for any concerned citizen. 

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