The Legitimating Function of the Dichotomy of the Public and the Private in Systemic Oppression

Dissertation, Purdue University (1993)

Sally J. Scholz
Villanova University
In this dissertation I argue that the dichotomy of the public and the private legitimates the marginalization and/or exclusion of individuals identified as members of oppressed social groups from active participation in the public sphere. I begin by delineating the conditions of systemic oppression and the role of the dichotomy of the public and the private in that particular form of oppression. Next, I critique a traditional usage of the dichotomy based on the systemic exclusion of women in the social contract theory of John Locke. The next two chapters discuss the efficacy of two different feminist reconceptualizations of the dichotomy. The first is Jean Bethke Elshtain's communitarianism which attempts to preserve the dichotomy by revaluing the private sphere. The second is the reconceptualization of the dichotomy by Frances Olsen who suggests transcending the split and recreating our lives to enforce an ideology free from a public/private distinction. Finally, in the last chapter I use the dialogic community and work-place democracy of Iris Marion Young to argue that in order to eradicate systemic oppression, social theory, in expanding the notion of the public, must be guided by the concerns of oppressed and differently situated groups
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