Dilemmas of British and Italian feminist movements and critical social theory : reflexive critiques
In this thesis critical social theory is used to assess the historical status of
modern feminist movements, the experience of which is used in turn to assess the
usefulness of certain key concepts from critical social theory. In particular Habermas'
concept of the ideal speech situation is used to determine how far feminist movements
fall into the tradition of earlier uni versalising social movements. This concept is used
both to analyse the forms of the movements (their structures and practices) and their
substantive activity in the area of political demands.
The ideal speech situation indicates that feminist movements were in a state of
permanent tension between competing commitments, especially universalist and
particularist imperatives. This dual logic can be seen in the pursuit of a renegotiation
of the publicI private divide. It can also be seen in the debates among feminists in the
In conclusion, it is suggested that feminist movements were both dependent on
and undermined by the tension between universalism and particularism. However, the
problems raised by these movements give indications that the ideal speech situation
may prove inadequate as a normative guide, particularly owing to the problems
relating to fertility explored by feminism.