Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Gender, Neoliberalism, and Financial Crisis Postgraduate Conference at the University of York

Sydney Calkin recently organized and hosted an international postgraduate conference on feminist politics and the financial crisis.

The politics of austerity and crisis are deeply gendered and open up a wide range of feminist debates around neoliberalism, resistance, and gender justice.  The Gender, Neoliberalism, and Financial Crisis Postgraduate Conference, which took place at the University of York on 27 September 2013, sought to map the multiple impacts of financial crisis, austerity, and neoliberalism on women and to articulate an alternative feminist agenda. It brought together researchers from around the world working on feminist political economy, sociology, development studies, economics, and related disciplines to present their findings and development networks for future research collaboration.

In their opening keynote address, Diane Elson and Ruth Pearson delivered two closely linked papers that first considered the impact of the financial crisis and austerity policies on women and then moved to suggest alternative, gender just economic arrangements. While they encouraged feminist researchers to continue to document the deficiencies and obstacles embedded in neoliberal gender regimes, they also challenged feminists to move beyond critique to articulating alternative anti-neoliberal economic discourses and policies. In the closing keynote address, Sylvia Walby echoed this sentiment, demonstrating the importance of articulating a gender growth model, using feminism as a counter hegemonic project to critique and dismantle the current neoliberal gender regime. To this end, she proposed a social democratic gender regime with high levels of female wage labour and political representation, substantial public expenditure on welfare and state provision of health, education, and care services. A recording of Diane Elson and Ruth Pearson’s opening keynote address is available for download and streaming here:

Panels throughout the day presented a diverse range of perspectives on gendered neoliberalism and austerity, both demonstrating the impact of the financial crisis and advocating alternative approaches to the current political and economic gender regimes. From a feminist institutionalist perspective, several researchers presented findings on gender equality policy in governmental and financial institutions, from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to the European Union and Macedonian government. Others examined the impact of austerity on the third sector and feminist organizations in particular. Both groups of researchers, those concerned with government and civil society, articulated a trenchant critique of neoliberalization of government policy and the impact of austerity on funding, policy, and discourse. In particular, they challenged the dominance of reductive efficiency-based gender policy, evident in the popular ‘business case’ for gender equality narratives which render equality a function of economic growth strategies and marginalize transformative approaches. Particularly invisible in discourses of crisis and austerity is the role of social reproduction and its value; another strand of researchers challenged the marginality of social reproduction from dominant political discourses and sought, through a variety of methodological approaches, to demonstrate the value and impact of social reproduction.

The postgraduate work presented here reflects the continuing significance of some enduring feminist debates and also opens up new directions for feminist research. Given the range of disciplinary backgrounds, methodological approaches, and subject matter, the conference contributions demonstrated the diversity of feminist research and articulated a coherent and compelling narrative of feminist analysis on the financial crisis and resistance to the politics of austerity. The conference succeeded in bringing together postgraduates from around the world to establish research connections with each other and to meet leading researchers in the field; I hope it will generate enduring research networks and facilitate future collaboration among young feminist scholars. This conference was funded in part by the Politics Department (alongside the York Annual Fund, Political Studies Association, and York Graduate Students’ Association). It would not have been possible without the support of Lisa Webster, Caroline Carfrae, and Carole Spary, so many thanks to them for their support.