Global justice and the renewal of critical theory: A dialogue with Nancy Fraser

Fraser2_84x84 In Eurozine:

Nancy Fraser: Let me start with the “post-socialist condition”. I coined this term in the mid 1990s to characterize the predominant mood following the fall of communism, in which an apparently de-legitimated social egalitarianism gave way to a miraculously resurrected free-market fundamentalism. Whenever I use the expression “post-socialist condition”, then, I put it in scare quotes to indicate that I am referring to an ideological trope. It's not, in other words, that I myself think socialism is irrelevant; rather, this was the common sense of the age. Naming an epochal shift in the grammar of political claims-making, the phrase signalled the fact that many progressive social actors had ceased couching their claims in terms of distributive justice and were resorting instead to new discourses of identity and difference. In this shift “from redistribution to recognition”, as I called it, presumptively emancipatory movements such as feminism and anti-racism, which previously militated for social equality, began in the post-Cold War era to reinvent themselves as practitioners of the politics of recognition. In writing of the “post-socialist condition,” then, I aimed to call attention to the decentring of the socialist imaginary, which had oriented leftwing struggles for a century and a half. I also sought to contextualize that sea change in political culture in relation to the spectacular rise of neoliberalism, whose proponents could only rejoice in the decline of social egalitarian. It was this constellation, in which identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with neoliberalism, that constituted the “post-socialist” mood.

More recently, however, I have come to realize that something else was going on as well, which brings me to the notion of the “global” that you mentioned. So let's fast-forward ahead to 2003, when I started writing about the “problem of the frame”. That is my expression for the new uncertainty that prevails today about the proper way of setting the bounds of justice and thus of deciding whose interests should count. In the Cold-War era, this “frame” issue was not a live question, as it generally went without saying that the unit within which justice applied was the modern territorial state.