Felix Stalder on Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:03:55 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Nancy Fraser: A Triple Movement? Parsing The Politics Of Crisis After

Yesterday, I listened to Doug Henwood's radio show [1] which featured a
long interview with feminist theorist Nancy Fraser. In it, she
elaborated, among other things, her take on Polanyi's Great
Transformation, which has been used, also on nettime, to frame the
current crisis. I found her quite interesting, since her approach is
both appreciative and critical of Polanyi.

[1] http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Radio.html#S170112

A quick search showed that her argument was developed in a 2013 article
in the New Left Review: A Triple Movement? Parsing The Politics Of
Crisis After Polanyi.

It bares quoting her take at length, because it addresses also some of
the unease Polanyi generated on nettime.

Immediately before this quote, Fraser ask why no "protective movement"
has emerged against the ravages of "marketization" (as Polanyi would
have predicted) and then goes through a list of conventional reasons:
lack of leadership, financialization, globalization. All of which
leave her unconvinced.


Whenever a question stubbornly resists sustained interrogation, it is
worth considering whether it may have been wrongly posed. When we ask
why there is no double movement in the 21st century, we repeat a
familiar counterfactual gesture—as in, why were there no socialist
revolutions in the advanced industrial states of the capitalist core?
The problem here is clear: focusing on what is absent, we ignore that
which is present. Suppose, however, that we re-cast our inquiry in a
more openended way, by examining the grammar of really existing social
struggles in the decades following publication of The Great Transformation?

To this end, let us consider the vast array of social struggles that do
not find any place within the scheme of the double movement. I am
thinking of the extraordinary range of emancipatory movements that
erupted on the scene in the 1960s and spread rapidly across the world in
the years that followed: anti-racism, anti-imperialism, anti-war, the
New Left, secondwave feminism, lgbt liberation, multiculturalism, and so
on. Often focused more on recognition than redistribution, these
movements were highly critical of the forms of social protection that
were institutionalized in the welfare and developmental states of the
postwar era. Turning a withering eye on the cultural norms encoded in
social provision, they unearthed invidious hierarchies and social
exclusions. For example, New Leftists exposed the oppressive character
of bureaucratically organized social protections, which disempowered
their beneficiaries, turning citizens into clients. Anti-imperialist and
anti-war activists criticized the national framing of first-world social
protections, which were financed on the backs of postcolonial peoples
whom they excluded; they thereby disclosed the injustice of ‘misframed’
protections, in which the scale of exposure to danger—often
transnational—was not matched by the scale at which protection was
organized, typically national. Meanwhile, feminists revealed the
oppressive character of protections premised on the ‘family wage’ and on
androcentric views of ‘work’ and ‘contribution’, showing that what was
protected was less ‘society’ per se than male domination. lgbt activists
unmasked the invidious character of public provision premised on
restrictive, hetero-normative definitions of family. Disability-rights
activists exposed the exclusionary character of built environments that
encoded able-ist views of mobility and ability. Multiculturalists
disclosed the oppressive character of social protections premised on
majority religious or ethnocultural self-­understandings, which penalize
members of minority groups. And on and on.

In each case, the movement criticized an aspect of the ‘ethical
substance’—Sittlichkeit—that informed social protection. In the process,
they forever stripped the term ‘protection’ of its innocence. Aware that
a wage could serve as a resource against domination premised on status,
these movements were naturally wary of those who idealized protection
and demonized markets. Demanding access, as opposed to protection, their
paramount aim was not to defend ‘society’ but to overcome domination.
Nevertheless, emancipatory movements were not proponents of economic
liberalism. Having broken ranks with ‘society’, they did not on that
account become partisans of ‘economy’. Aware that marketization often
served more to re-function than to eliminate domination, they were
instinctively sceptical, too, of those who touted the ‘self-regulating’
market as a panacea. Wary of efforts to totalize marketization, they
claimed the freedom of contract not as an end in itself, but rather as a
means to emancipation, broadly conceived.

In general, then, the social movements of the postwar era do not fit
either pole of the double movement. Championing neither marketization
nor social protection, they espoused a third political project, which I
shall call emancipation. Occulted by Polanyi’s figure, this project
needs to be given a central place in our efforts to clarify the grammar
of social struggle in the 21st century. I propose, accordingly, to
analyse the present constellation by means of a different figure, which
I call the triple movement. Like Polanyi’s figure, the triple movement
serves as an analy­tical device for parsing the grammar of social
struggle in capitalist society. But unlike the double movement, it
delineates a three-sided conflict among proponents of marketization,
adherents of social protection and partisans of emancipation. The aim
here is not simply greater inclusiveness, however. It is rather to
capture the shifting relations among those three sets of political
forces, whose projects intersect and collide. The triple movement
foregrounds the fact that each can ally, in principle, with either of
the other two poles against the third.

__Political ambivalence

To speak of a triple movement is to posit that each of its three
constituent poles is inherently ambivalent. We can already see, contra
Polanyi, that social protection is often ambivalent, affording relief
from the disintegrative effects of markets upon communities, while
simultaneously entrenching domination within and among them. But the
same is true of the other two terms. Marketization may indeed have the
negative effects Polanyi stressed. But as Marx appreciated, it can also
beget positive effects, to the extent that the protections it
disintegrates are oppressiveas, for example, when markets in consumer
goods are introduced into bureaucratically administered command
economies, or when labour markets are opened to those who have been
involuntarily excluded from them. Nor, importantly, is emancipation
immune from ambivalence, as it produces not only liberation but also
strains in the fabric of existing solidarities. Even as it overcomes
domination, emancipation may help dissolve the solidary ethical basis of
social protection, thereby clearing a path for marketization.

Seen this way, each term has both a telos of its own and a potential for
ambivalence which unfolds through its interaction with the other two
terms. Contra Polanyi, therefore, the conflict between marketization and
social protection cannot be understood in isolation from emancipation.
Equally, however, subsequent conflicts between protection and
emancipation cannot be understood in isolation from the mediating force
of neoliberalization. A parallel critique can thus be made of
emancipatory movements. If Polanyi neglected the impact of struggles for
emancipation on conflicts between marketization and social protection,
these movements have often neglected the impact of marketizing projects
on their struggles with protectionist forces.

We have seen that emancipatory movements challenged oppressive
protections in the postwar era. In each case, the movement disclosed a
type of domination and raised a claim for emancipation. However, these
claims were also ambivalent—they could line up in principle either with
marketization or with social protection. In the first case, where
emancipation aligned with marketization, it would serve to erode not
just the oppressive dimension, but the solidary basis of social
protection simpliciter. In the second case, where emancipation aligned
with social protection, it would not erode but rather transform the
ethical substance undergirding protection.

As a matter of fact, all of those movements encompassed both
protec­tionist and marketizing tendencies. In each case, liberal
currents gravitated in the direction of marketization, while socialist
and socialdemocratic currents were more likely to align with forces for
social protection. Arguably, however, emancipation’s ambivalence has
been resolved in recent years in favour of marketization. Insufficiently
attuned to the rise of free-market forces, the hegemonic currents of
emancipatory struggle have formed a ‘dangerous liaison’ with
neoliberalism, supplying a portion of the ‘new spirit’ or charismatic
rationale for a new mode of capital accumulation, touted as ‘flexible’,
‘difference-friendly’, ‘encouraging of creativity from below’.9 As a
result, the emancipatory critique of oppressive protection has converged
with the neoliberal critique of protection per se. In the conflict zone
of the triple movement, emancipation has joined forces with
marketization to double-team social protection.


In in this light, what is happening now, in the UK and US, is a
teaming up of marketization and social protection (at least on the
level of rhetoric) against emancipation. And it seems that quite a few
people, when forced to choose between the two, chose protection over
emancipation, particularly when emancipation meant emancipation of
other people.

all the best. Felix


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