Feminist political economy and its explanatory promise

Rosalind Cavaghan and Anna Elomdki

Feminist EU studies have recently witnessed an expansion in attempts to theorise European integration (see Abels and MacRae 2016,2020), accompanied by efforts to analyse the profound institutional and political shifts brought about since the financial and Eurozone crises (Kantola and Lombardo 2017). Surprisingly, insights from feminist political economy (FPE) (e.g. Bakker 1994; Elias and Roberts 2018;Young et al. 2011) have not yet been extensively incorporated into feminist EU studies. This chapter lays out some of the core concepts and analytical foci in FPE literature that have the potential to deepen our understanding of the gendered character and impacts ofEU integration.

The approaches of critical political economy (CPE) that pay attention to the mutual constitution of the ‘political’ and the ‘economic’ — as well as societal power relations in the processes of European integration — have been increasingly applied to studying the EU since the early 1990s. The global financial crisis of 2007—2008 and the ensuing Eurozone crisis have spurred these activities. Critical political economists have shown how European integration and the EU’s socioeconomic governance have become increasingly neoliberal since the mid-1980s (Gill 1998; van Apeldoorn 2002).They have further pointed out how the EU’s crisis response and its new post-crisis economic governance structures have enhanced neoliberal capitalism, created classbased and other inequalities, reshaped the democratic sphere in the EU, prioritised particular economic ideas and reshaped the relationships between different policy areas (Bruft 2014;Crespy and Menz 2015; Ryner 2015). The multidisciplinary and wide-ranging field of FPE — with influences from Marxist/Socialist feminism, gender and development scholarship, Black feminist scholarship and feminist economics, among others — adds to CPE approaches by paying specific attention to how power, gender and the productive and reproductive economies intertwine (Elias and Roberts 2018). While most FPE literature has focused on global political economy and development, there has been an increasing interest in the application of FPE to the EU.

We argue that FPE concepts and approaches can be used to analyse the EU in various policy areas, ranging from the internal market to agriculture, trade, defence, gender equality policy, development and climate change (see policy section in this volume).To date, however, macro-economic policies and economic governance are the policy areas in which these ideas have been applied most (e.g., Bruff and Woehl 2016; Cavaghan and O’Dwyer 2018; Klatzer and Schlager 2019; O’Dwyer 2017;Young 2018). In this chapter, we show the analytical potential of FPE in these fields, which have also been the focus for most CPE scholars. As we argue, the EU s macro-economic policies, such as fiscal and monetary policies, as well as the governance mechanisms through which they are implemented, are pivotal for the future ot gender equality in the EU because they actively maintain gendered and racialised hierarchies in the economy in the EU (Cavaghan and O’Dwyer 2018; Klatzer and Schlager 2014). Focusing on these fields, we illustrate the strengths and potential of FPE in theorising the EU’s wider development.

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