Social Philosophy Today

Volume 25, 2009

Gender, Diversity, and Difference

Lynda Lange
Pages 31-45

Globalization and the Conceptual Effects of Boundaries Between Western Political Philosophy and Economic Theory
The Case of Publicly Supported Child Care for Working Mothers

This paper analyzes the historical and cultural genealogy of the presumed separation between ethics and economic theory, taking publicly supported care for children of working mothers (or parents) as a case that illuminates problems for thinking about gender justice that arise because of these disciplinary boundaries and the particular concept of “the human individual” that is implicit in them. Care for children of working mothers is an issue that has been important in the West since the inception of “second wave” feminism. However, I argue that the global expectation that women are responsible for care of small children, coupled with the reality that small children really must have caregivers, makes this issue pertinent to women everywhere, and it has lately been recognized as an issue for development and global justice. Predominant political philosophies and neoclassical economics have a common philosophical root in abstract individualist method. I argue that this has made possible a claim of intellectual respectability for neo-liberal politics that resists feminist and postcolonial critique, even though these critiques show its inability to deal with matters, such as the need for child care, that have moral issues inextricably involved in them. The economy of rational individual self-interest has so far only generated child care with a very large component of exploitation of caregivers.