The politics of choice: difficult freedoms for young women in late modernity

Baker, Joanne (2005) The politics of choice: difficult freedoms for young women in late modernity. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis reports on a study of young women’s experiences, aspirations and relationship to feminism in the contemporary socio-political context. It brings a feminist analysis to new social theories about late modernity by exploring the particular relationship that young women have to the social and psychological processes that are associated with this reconfigured climate and the prevailing ideology of neo-liberalism. A feminist theoretical framework informs all features of the research. It underpins the justification and context for the area of inquiry, the choice of methodology, the use of methods and the analytical lens for the interpretation of literature and data. The research employs a qualitative methodology. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with fifty five young women aged between eighteen and twenty five. The participants all resided in the Townsville/Thuringowa area and represented diversity in terms of race, class, sexuality, parenting status and education. The growing influence of neo-liberalism and its dovetailing with feminism has ushered in the concept of a modernised, assertive and liberated femininity which celebrates the democratic opening up of choices and unprecedented options for girls and women, particularly in the areas of education and employment. The findings presented in this thesis identify that being female in these conditions is not to experience a simple and unproblematic expansion of choice or liberation from previous constraint, rather that they entail ‘difficult freedoms’. Whilst the vast majority of participants report the benefits of these changes and a belief in meritocracy, their experiences and opportunities are strongly mediated by race, class and educational experience, and significantly complicated by primary responsibility for parenting and domestic work. The research found the continuation of many material barriers and circumscriptions in the areas of education, occupational preference, mothering and domesticity and a high incidence of male violence in intimate relationships and family backgrounds. Inequalities that are generated socially are overwhelmingly understood by young women through a ‘politics of choice’. A punitive interpretive framework of individualism is strongly endorsed and this is reflected in their assessment of feminism. This study identifies subjective adjustments to this epistemological leaning which include techniques of discounting or distancing themselves from negative interpretations of their own disadvantage or adversity and the relational consequences of resentment and a chilling of empathy towards others in hardship. The thesis concludes that young women are located in a changed context of power. The hegemonic operation of neo-liberalism allows subordination to occur covertly within a framework of ostensible commitment to equality, the valorisation of choice and through seductive incitements to individual responsibility and self-management. Liberating processes which are supposed to be freeing for women are actually involved in re-inscribing their subordinate status. The research contributes to contemporary feminist theory and activism and to social policy and welfare practice by restating the relevance of structural perspectives and signalling the necessity of incorporating knowledge of the epistemological and subjective dispositions outlined in this research.

Item ID: 12
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Feminism, Contemporary socio-political theory, Feminist theoretical framework, Neo-liberalism
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2007
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160512 Social Policy @ 50%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology @ 25%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1607 Social Work > 160702 Counselling, Welfare and Community Services @ 25%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950407 Social Ethics @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 50%
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