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The Politics of Choice and Economic Distributions



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Kaplan, Jessica 


This thesis asks how egalitarians can theorise economic-distributive issues in ways sensitive to structural injustices of race, gender, and class. Drawing on real-world political problems and debates, I illustrate the contemporary urgency of an intersectional approach to economic-distributive justice. And I argue that any such approach must adopt repoliticised, critical conceptions of choice and the economy.

Political philosophy on distributive justice is dominated by theories centrally animated by the concept of choice. These theories, I argue, risk mistakenly sweeping structural injustices under the carpet of victims’ own ‘bad choices’. To diagnose this problematic tendency, I reveal the hidden ethico-political dimensions of attributing certain outcomes to certain choices. Choice, I show, cannot provide a pre-political foundation for theories of distributive justice. Accordingly, I then turn to prominent egalitarian paradigms not centrally animated by choice. I suggest relational egalitarianism fares better for its less individualist, more social-structuralist approach. But relational egalitarians are not always clear about how economic-distributive issues relate to equal political relationships and socio-political status hierarchies. I argue that this sometimes leads them to understate the importance of distributive justice.

Nancy Fraser’s ‘perspectival dualism’ looks a promising corrective to this under-emphasis, as it is designed to integrate left economic-redistributive projects with feminist and anti-racist cultural-recognitive projects. However, I argue that Fraser’s underlying economy-culture dualism means she struggles to capture important features of the intersections of race, class, and gender. Tracing this problematic economy-culture dualism through contemporary ‘class versus identity politics’ debates, I propose an alternative approach. I suggest we be non-dualists, viewing economic distributions and cultural representations as importantly co-constitutive.

To end, I outline a non-dualist analysis of the economy. Our dominant understanding of the economy, I argue, is an ideological objectification of certain practices – an objectification which harmfully helps naturalise relations of raced, classed, and gendered domination. I suggest a counter-hegemonic understanding informed by anti-racist, feminist, and socialist rethinkings of which practices constitute labour and who constitutes the ‘public’ within economic imaginaries of public value.





Chambers, Clare
Dougherty, Tom


Economy-Culture Dualism, The Economy, Choice, Personal Responsibility, Intersectionality


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1652967)