Lois McNay

in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory

Published in print February 2016 | ISBN: 9780199328581
Published online April 2015 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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This chapter traces key developments in feminist thought on agency through an underlying tension between the descriptive and normative senses of the term. Feminist theories of agency as relational autonomy displace problematic ideas of sovereignty yet remain entangled in a problematic prescriptivism about the different ways women choose to lead their lives. This adjudicative agenda is overcome in feminist theories of agency as resistance that are grounded in less prescriptive ideas of emancipatory action as subversion from within. These, in turn, are subject to the criticism that resistance is a peculiarly Western preoccupation that leads to the ethnocentric discounting of other types of active agency where women in nonsecular societies create meaningful identities for themselves within, not against, the dominant cultural norms. The chapter goes on to consider how some theorists have sought to bypass the normative dilemmas that accompany the cross-cultural analysis of agency.

Keywords: agency; gender; relational autonomy; resistance; critique; postidentity; posthuman; neoliberalism

Article.  10882 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Behaviour

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