Career Narrative

Nancy Fraser is Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School for Social Research, Visiting Research Professor at Dartmouth College, and holder of an international research chair in “Global Justice” at the Collège d’études mondiales in Paris. After receiving her Ph.D. from the City University of New York in 1980, she taught for 13 years at Northwestern University, before moving to the New School in l995. Formerly co-editor of Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory and past President of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, she has published extensively in political philosophy, social theory, “Continental” philosophy, and feminist theory.

Fraser’s first book, Unruly Practices (1989), proposed a critical theory of the democratic welfare state that went beyond issues of distributive justice, then preoccupying political philosophers in the Anglo-American liberal tradition. Inspired by New Left critiques of bureaucracy and feminist critiques of androcentrism, she defended the expanded understanding of politics found in European thinkers, such as Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas, even as she also found much in their thinking to criticize. Drawing on the insights of the linguistic turn, she proposed a major shift in critical focus: from the standard liberal focus on conflicts over need satisfaction to a radical-democratic focus on the “politics of need interpretation.” Translated into German, Unruly Practices was among the first sustained efforts to integrate poststructuralist and critical-theoretical approaches. A constant throughout Fraser’s career, that project also distinguished her contribution to Feminist Contentions (1994; translated into German, Turkish, and Czech), which she coauthored with Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, and Drucilla Cornell.

If Unruly Practices reflected the expansive, democratizing energies of the “new social movements,” Fraser’s next major book exuded a more somber mood. Written in the wake of the simultaneous rise of identity politics and neoliberalism, Justice Interruptus (1997; translated into Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian) diagnosed the decoupling of “the politics of recognition” from “the politics of redistribution” and the relative eclipse of the latter by the former. Disputing sectarians who championed one of these paradigms to the exclusion of the other, Fraser proposed a “two-dimensional” theory of justice that integrated the best insights of each. The subject of much lively debate, this theory was further developed in Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange, which Fraser co-authored with Axel Honneth (2004; translated into German, Polish, Spanish, Czech, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Korean and Turkish). There, she defended a “perspectival dualism” of redistribution and recognition against Honneth’s “recognition monism,” while proposing to resurrect the interdisciplinary project of a “critical theory of society” as an alternative to freestanding moral philosophy.

Soon thereafter, however, Fraser became dissatisfied with that conception. Although it captured the post-Cold-War shift in the grammar of political claimsmaking “from redistribution to recognition,” she came to realize that it failed to interrogate the default assumption that the proper unit within which justice applies is the bounded territorial state. Seeking to remedy that lacuna, she used the occasion of her 2004 Spinoza Lectures to introduce a third, political dimension of justice alongside the economic and cultural dimensions she had foregrounded earlier. Analytically distinct from redistribution and recognition, representation serves in her view to theorize injustices of “misframing,” which arise when, for example, what are actually transnational inequities are (mis)cast as national matters. Aimed at clarifying struggles over globalization, this revised, three-dimensional theory is elaborated in her 2008 book, Scales of Justice (translated into Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Bulgarian and Chinese). An attempt to “re-imagine political space in a globalizing world,” this work represents a sustained reflection on who owes what to whom in the era of neoliberalism. Its theses, along with those of her earlier work, are the focus of two author-meets-critics volumes, Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates her Critics, ed. Kevin Olson (Verso, 2008; translated into Chinese, Korean, and Italian); and Transnationalizing the Public Sphere: Nancy Fraser debates her Critics, ed. Kate Nash (Polity Press, 2014).

Throughout her career, Fraser has treated “capitalist society” as the master conceptual frame for her critical theorizing. Her most recent work puts that idea front and center, as an object of sustained, explicit interrogation. In her newest book, Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory, coauthored with Rahel Jaeggi (Polity Press, 2018), Fraser has elaborated an “enlarged conception of capitalism” as an “institutionalized social order.” Intended as alternative to the standard view as of capitalism as an economic system, her view anatomizes the turbulent relations between capitalism’s “economic foreground” and the latter’s “background” conditions of possibility–its reliance on organized public power, the unwaged activity of social reproduction, the expropriated labor of subjugated racialized “others,” and the “free gifts” of extra-human nature. In Fraser’s view, capital’s capacity to accumulate is premised on a social order that allows it to help itself freely to these indispensable background goods without having to pay for cost of replenishing them. The result is a new critical theory of contemporary financialized capitalism that discloses its inherent tendencies to hollow out democracy, free-ride on women’s work, expropriate the assets of communities of color, and degrade nature–all in addition to its well-known inherent need to exploit wage labor. The work integrates elements from such thinkers as Karl Marx, Karl Polanyi, and Jürgen Habermas with the insights of feminism, postcolonialism, Black Marxism, critical race theory, democratic theory, and ecological thought. Related work on these themes appeared in her 2013 book, Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (Verso; translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Turkish, Croatian and Polish) and in articles published in New Left Review and Critical Historical Studies. She is currently working on several book-length projects aimed at developing this perspective further and more systematically.

Nancy Fraser has delivered the Tanner Lectures on Human Values (Stanford), the Spinoza Lectures (Amsterdam), the Ralph Miliband Lecture (London School of Economics), the Gilbert Ryle Lectures (Trent), the Mary Wollstonecraft Lecture (Hull), the Giambattista Vico Lecture (York), the Storrs Lectures (Yale Law School), the Jin Yuelin Lectures (Beijing), the Messenger Lectures (Cornell), the Leibniz Lecture (Vienna), the Patten Lectures (Indiana), the Jan Patocka Lecture (Vienna), the Blaise Pascal Lectures (Paris), the Rosa Luxembourg Lecture (Berlin), the Marc Bloch Lecture (EHESS, Paris) and the Nicos Poulantzas Lecture (Athens).

Fraser’s work has been cited twice by the Brazilian Supreme Court, in decisions upholding marriage equality and affirmative action, and was celebrated in a 2017 Festschrift prepared by colleagues for her 70th birthday: Feminism, Capitalism and Critique: Essays in honor of Nancy Fraser, ed. Banu Bargu and Chiara Bottici (Palgrave Macmillan).

In 2018, Nancy Fraser was named a Chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur. She has also won the Alfred Schutz Prize in Social Philosophy from the American Philosophical Association; the Havens Center Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the Nessim Habif World Prize from the University of Geneva. Fraser was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa from the National University of Cordoba (Argentina), Roskilde University (Denmark), Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Universidad Nacional de San Martin (Buenos Aires, Argentina), the University of Liège (Belgium), and the University of Veracruz (Mexico).

She has held Visiting Professorships and Research Fellowships at Stanford University, Radcliffe College, the University of Paris, the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, the London School of Economics, the University of Stockholm, the JohannWolfgang Goethe Universität-Frankfurt, the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Vienna), the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris), the University of Cambridge, and the Freie-Univesität-Berlin, among others.

A public intellectual as well as a scholar, Nancy Fraser has published opinion pieces, political analyses, and interviews in The New York Times, The Guardian, Dissent, American Affairs, Slate, Le monde, El País, la Repubblica, Libération, l’Obs, Die Zeit, and Frankfurter Rundschau, among others. In a series of widely discussed opinion essays, she coined the expression “progressive neoliberalism” to name the ruling political alliance that paved the way for Trump by hollowing out working- and middle-class living standards. Seeking to develop a “progressive populist” alternative, she is among the originators of the “feminism for the 99%” and a coauthor with Cinzia Arruzza and Tithi Bhattacharya of “Manifesto: A Feminism for the 99%” (forthcoming from Verso in 2019).

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