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Revisiting the Feminist Theory of the State

Mon, August 14, 8:30 to 10:10am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 516A


The state has been conceptualized as a power structure that serves the interest of few. While there are many different definitions of ‘the state,’ the one that sits at the core of the feminist debate stems from the influential work of Catherine MacKinnon (1989). This paper seeks to unpack the debate surrounding a feminist state. I will cover literature on state theory, and social movements, in order to build a bridge between a conceptualization of the public sphere and the mobilization of private actors. I utilize Anthony Giddens (1976)’ theory of structuration, which provides a theoretical framework to understand how structure interacts with social actors. However, I also extend Giddens’ theory by outlining the different positionalities of social actors, which is neglected in his theory of social change. This takes women away from the understanding that they lack agency under ‘patriarchal’ structures, and moves them towards an understanding of women’s ability to resist and manipulate state power. While the state may be ‘male jurisprudence,’ I argue that there have been opportunities for women to utilize the existing structure to advance changes for their betterment. I provide an approach to reconcile the state and feminist aims of (full) equality. As a case in point, I provide examples of state-wide achievements in the North American contexts to show the interaction between the state and social movements. This paper discusses the implications of an anti-state theory, which I argue neglects the different positionalities of marginalized persons, and in particular, the abject individual.