The Feminist Policy Project (FPP) will be a collaborative venture through which contributors critically evaluate and creatively rewrite a range of UK social policies.
Academic and non-academic collaborators will use feminist theories, scholarship and insight to critically engage with and ‘rewrite’ central and devolved government policy. Substantively, some such policies will address issues that are clearly of interest to feminists (e.g. sexual violence, parental leave) and others will address issues not immediately identifiable as such (e.g. travel and infrastructure).
The FPP is inspired by, and draws heavily from, a rich tradition of feminist judgment writing, most notably (and immediately) the Scottish Feminist Judgment Project. We anticipate discovering several parallels between feminist judgment writing and feminist policymaking. Ultimately, however, policymaking is a messier and less regulated practice. As such, we cannot straightforwardly translate the approach used by feminist judgment writers to the FPP.
In response to this challenge, Rebecca Hewer, Larissa Nenning, and Ben Collier are designing an original FPP conceptual framework. We will present a draft of this framework to feminist academics during a Soundings event in late summer 2022, and ask for feedback. The framework will be finalised following the incorporation of this feedback and a pilot study.
Ultimately, we hope that the FPP's conceptual framework will inspire a range of policy projects across a range of jurisdictions and institutions.
- Utopia as method
The FPP’s conceptual framework will be grounded in a range of social science and legal literature – particularly that which addresses constitutional and administrative law, policymaking models, imaginaries, futurity, and utopia. At present, a key text informing the developing framework is Ruth Levitas’ (2013) Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society (Palgrave Macmillan).
Levitas encourages researchers to engage in the imaginary reconstitution of society by using ‘utopia as method’. The utopian method has three parts: archaeology, ontology, and architecture.
- Archaeology: Levitas encourages us to excavate the fragmentary pieces of a utopian vision embedded in contemporary hegemonic configurations.
- Ontology: Levitas asks us to consider the kind of human nature that is (or would be) produced by the realisation of these hegemonic utopias, and to contemplate a preferable kind of subject.
- Architecture: Levitas encourages us to imagine a new social configuration, one apt to produce our preferred subject.
This configuration should subsequently be subject to archaeological scrutiny, and so on. The process is cyclical and all proposed utopias are, therefore, necessarily provisional.
The archaeological and ontological facets of Levitas’ work are reminiscent of key themes within critical social theory, and critical feminist policy analysis. Her approach is thus poised to contribute to a new body of critical and creative policy scholarship.
- Why rewrite policy?
In Why Feminist Legal Scholars Should Write Judgments: Reflections on the Feminist Judgments Project in England and Wales, Erika Rackley (2012) positions feminist judgment writing as a kind of socio-critical scholarship. The FPP hopes to establish feminist policy writing as a similarly legitimate academic practice.
Specifically, Rackley argues that feminist judgment writing: puts theory into practice; requires unequivocal decision-making; sheds light on original judgments; illuminates the relational, human and agentic character of judge-made law; and sheds light on the role the law can play in feminist activism.
In light of these observations, and over and above creating new policies, the FPP will seek to answer the following questions:
- Does rewriting policy encourage us to extract and elaborate utopic visions embedded in feminist theory? In what way and to what effect?
- What opportunities and challenges do we create when feminist academics are required to become unequivocal policymakers? What epistemological insights might these opportunities and challenges provide?
- When we compare rewritten policies to their originals, what kind of critical insights emerge? Do they build on and/or complicate existing critical insights? If so how and to what effect?
- What can we learn about policymaking as a feminist activity from critically evaluating and creatively rewriting policy?
Finally, insofar as rewriting policy in collaboration with feminist colleagues might allow us to
- Occupy a space in which there is ‘political will’ for gender justice; and
- Temporarily desist from praxis necessitated by the neoliberal university
It may represent an opportunity to prefigure a bounded utopia – albeit ephemerally. This prompts the following questions:
- What kind of ‘human nature' does the FPP produce?
- What might a concrete (if ephemeral) feminist utopia look like in the context of the neoliberal university? How can we build and protect these spaces?
- Research Outputs and Stages
Anticipated outputs include an edited collection, pedagogical resources, and a network of feminist policy enthusiasts.
Stage 1: Articulating a conceptual framework for the FPP
Rebecca Hewer, Larissa Nenning and Ben Collier will formulate a draft framework. This will be presented to a ‘soundings’ for feminist academics working in Scotland. We will use feedback from this event to develop the framework further.
Stage 2: Pilot study
We will test the conceptual framework in a pilot study, ultimately finessing and finalising it. We will use this work (and reflections on this work) to prepare a research protocol for publication.
Stage 3: Critiques and creative rewrites
We will invite feminist academics to undertake their own critiques and rewrites of policy. These contributions will provide material for an edited collection. If possible (e.g. if funding permits) contributors will be invited to a series of events to discuss their work. Contributors will be encouraged to co-author work in collaboration with non-academic stakeholders and with each other. This will emulate the collaborative and often dialogic nature of policymaking.
Stage 4: Dissemination and further development
We will promote the FPP to policy actors in the UK. In addition, we will introduce the FPP to academics in other jurisdictions in the hopes that new policy projects will emerge.
The conceptual framework, observations from events, and the edited collection will provide foundational material for the development of pedagogical materials. Ultimately, we will design an undergraduate honours course based on these materials. We will share the course framework with academics in other institutions who may similarly wish to run classes based on the FPP.
For more information contact email@example.com or follow @fempolicyproj on Twitter.
Mourn. Hope. Love. Imagine. Organise. (Levitas, 2013)