The Social Provisioning Approach in Feminist Economics: The Unfolding Research

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Book Chapter

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The Routledge Handbook of Feminist Economics


From its self-identified inception with the formation of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) in 1992 and the publication of its journal Feminist Economics in 1995, feminist economics has remained a pluralistic project, encompassing mainstream and nonmainstream feminist economists and feminist scholars from diverse disciplines. Pluralism has served the development of a large body of scholarship, and it may be both expedient and valuable to not interrogate what it means to do feminist economics. Notwithstanding the varieties of feminist economics, in this Introduction, we aim to bring clarity to differing starting points in feminist economic scholarship. We start by affirming the goals of feminist economics as stated on the webpage of Feminist Economics. “The goal of Feminist Economics is not just to develop more illuminating theories, but to improve the conditions of living for all children, women, and men” (www.feministeconomics.org). We believe that improving the conditions of living for all requires dismantling of institutional structures and policies that reproduce or exacerbate gender and intersecting inequalities and addressing the climate crisis.

We contend that the social provisioning approach (SPA) in feminist economics outlined by Power (2004) provides useful methodological starting points to analyze and improve the conditions of living for all. In the SPA, economic activity encompasses unpaid work as well as paid work; human well-being is the yardstick of economic success; power differentials, agency, and the processes that generate economic outcomes are part of the analysis; economic outcomes and processes are shaped by gender, which intersects with other social identities; and scholars of feminist economics make explicit their ethical stance in analysis (Power 2004). The contributors to this Handbook discuss the limitations of mainstream (neoclassical) and heterodox (e.g. institutional, radical political) economics for feminist economics inquiry, and many go further to examine the critical feminist economics scholarship that has been produced on the basis of the SPA. While SPA shares features with heterodox economics perspectives, heterodox economics encompasses theories beyond methodological starting points. Moreover, many contributors to the Handbook may not consider their work heterodox, and many mainstream feminist economists may find their approach consistent with the SPA. Our goal is to delineate the social provisioning methodology and highlight its insights for the development of feminist economics.

The Handbook comprises five parts. Part I evaluates the key concepts and frameworks that draw upon the SPA and have been influential in the development of feminist economics. The goal of this section is to flesh out the methodological convergence flagged by Marilyn Power as “emerging,” and to provide a resource for future feminist economics debates. Part II reviews the methodologies and methods used and debated in feminist economics. Part III focuses on inequalities in provisioning activities at both the household and market levels and the institutions that enable/constrain the ability to secure decent livelihoods. This research showcases the insights that can be gained from situating analysis of gender inequalities in provisioning in macroeconomic and international contexts. Parts IV and V evaluate the policies and strategies for a gender-equitable and sustainable future. This Introduction aims to contextualize the chapters of the Handbook in the vast feminist economics scholarship, with very few citations to research outside the Handbook due to space constraints.


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