Any text is built on some kind of theoretical or conceptual framework that may or may not be made explicit. This places the knowledge presented in a broader epistemological and ontological field. This further allows us to judge its claims and justifications. Chapter 1 therefore outlines the field of language theorizing that has informed my own development of conceptual literacy. A key point to note here is that this review is necessarily selective because it is based on what has been personally relevant in terms of my own learning journey. In developing your own conceptual literacy other theorizations may well be equally if not more relevant. As part of opening up rather than closing down, therefore, this chapter provides a useful starting point to which further theoretical frameworks might be added.

Chapter 1 includes a number of issues related to the analysis and theorization of multiple meaning. I begin by discussing Derridean notions of differance and analyses of meaning that focus on language dualism. I next turn to Wittgenstein’s analysis of language with particular attention to his conceptualization of language games. This is to illustrate the place of context as giving meaning to specific discourses within language. Finally, I explore the politics of conceptual contes­tation. Here I illustrate the conditions for contestation in terms of Connolly’s (1993) analysis of cluster concepts. In addition, I discuss how contestation may masquerade as a simple issue of accurate description that requires the correct indicators. However, as Tanesini (1994) comments, such descriptors also invoke particular judgements about what is warrantable knowledge that have a justificatory role in terms of how a field of study should proceed. In these ways a particular field changes direction or extends its purview both in respect of its empirical and political concerns.

One of the consequences of the changes that arise from debates about what counts as adequate ways to proceed is that there is a tendency that post-hoc analyses and thus the veracity of earlier work are primarily read within the terms of these later debates. My concern that any development of conceptual literacy takes account of situating meaning within historical and cultural contexts is therefore taken up in Chapter 2 by illustrating how eighteenth – and nineteenth-century feminist theor­izing of equality drew on Enlightenment ideas of liberalist rights. In Chapter 2 I explore two basic conceptualizations of equality. These are equality as sameness and equality as difference. In respect of equality as sameness I explore the problems of measurement that are central to such conceptualizations and the policy and legislative outcomes of rights – based equality arguments. In respect of equality as difference I focus on the centrality of motherhood to such conceptualizations and illustrate the varied meanings of this in terms of the eighteenth-century writings of Wollstonecraft and more contemporary Italian feminists’ conceptua­lizations. Because it is becoming a neglected area, my final concern in Chapter 2 is to discuss material inequalities. Here I specifically focus on Fraser’s (1995) theoretical conceptualization through her analysis of the politics of recognition and the politics of redistribution that are part of post-socialist political life.

As will be evident from Chapter 2, it is impossible to talk of equality without invoking issues of difference. In Chapter З I explore a variety of conceptualizations of difference. These include difference as sameness, identity differences, sexual difference, poststructural and postcolonial analyses of difference. Difference has, of course, been of enormous importance to feminism with the consequence that there is a plethora of writings that could be drawn upon to illustrate its meanings. The question for any academic or student, then, is ‘How does one organize and manage this wealth of material?’ I begin Chapter З by comparing two conceptual schema of difference (Barrett, 1987, and Evans, 1995). One of my purposes here is to illustrate how feminists approach a field as rich and diverse as difference in terms of the imposition of alternative organizing frameworks. For example, Barrett separates experiential, sexual and positional difference and draws up her framework of three key differences accordingly. Evans draws on particular schools of thought such as cultural, liberal and postmodern feminism as under­pinning her three key differences. I continue the discussion in Chapter 3 by exploring the key differences through a concern with conceptualiza­tions of group difference, deconstructive approaches and postcolonial theorizing of multi-axial locationality.

Chapter 4 explores the concept of choice within a broader framework of agency and structure. This enables me to situate conceptualizations of choice within debates about these two concepts. I offer two con­ceptualizations of choice. The first is that of rational choice. Here I illustrate how rational choice most closely fits with common-sense, everyday conceptualizations and is also central to economic theory. By way of critique I explore feminist economists’ analyses of rational choice theory in terms of its predominant assumption of agentic, rational personhood. I then outline poststructural conceptualizations of the choosing subject. These focus on the processes of subjectification through keeping in simultaneous play issues of mastery and submission. Whilst poststructural theorizing is critical of humanist conceptions of personhood, the primary aim is to go beyond the agency-structure ‘ping – pong’ (Jones, 1997) that has been a central feature of much theorization in the social sciences.

Thomas (1993) suggests that care is primarily an empirical rather than a theoretical category. Her point is important because it highlights how terms are conceptualized through the theoretical frameworks within which they are placed. For example, within sociological frame­works of care giving and care receiving, care has mainly been imbued with negative meanings. Within some philosophical and psychological writings, and particularly those of care ethicists, care takes on more positive evaluations. Care is also interesting because in some domains the empirical facets of care giving and receiving are renamed. In employment contexts, for example, caring is redefined as service or support (Tronto, 1993). However, one idea recurs. That is that care is primarily women’s responsibility. In Chapter 5 I explore these meanings of care through an analysis of its economic character in both family and employment domains and its ethical implications for a deconstruction of rights-based discourses. A conceptualization of care as economic has enabled feminists to rename care as work whether this is unpaid work or paid work. A conceptualization of care as an ethic has facilitated a critique of individualist rights and associated policies that continue to neglect a further central feature of care. This is that we all need care and we are all equally capable of care giving (Sevenhuijsen, 1998).

Time is feminism’s latent concept. It is for this reason that Adam (1989) was able to write an article illustrating why feminist social theory needs time. Time is so imbued in our everyday language that we most often fail to notice its expansiveness. When we do we tend to focus on clock-time as the all-encompassing only time. In Chapter 6 I explore three aspects to conceptualizations of time. The first is the linear time of the clock. This is the most predominant conceptualization of time in social theory and can be found in a body of research that ranges from historical analyses to adult development theories to work-family balance policies. Feminist research has primarily referred to linear, clock time as male time and has contrasted this with female time. Female time arises from women’s relationship to the reproduction of family and organizational life. It is relational and repetitive as tasks, such as feeding, cleaning or counselling, regularly interrupt the linearity of the clock. I next turn to analyses of time that are concerned with the development of the self and I outline here conceptualizations of time that view the past, the present and the future as simultaneous. For example, I discuss issues of authenticity and the role of time in creating a sense of the continuous self. Finally, I turn to issues of time-space relationships. Here I particularly focus on Grosz’s (1995) analysis of the body and Kristeva’s (1986) conceptualization of feminist politics that both incorporate issues of time, space and identity.

Arising from feminist consciousness-raising and summarized within the phrase ‘The personal is the political’ experience is central to feminist politics. Experience also forms the cornerstone of empirical research as the very stuff of narrative and interview. In Chapter 7 I discuss the development of standpoint theory from its original conceptualization in the late 1970s to the present. Standpoint theory originally posited that the experiences of those who were positioned outside the dominant order gave rise to a more adequate, even superior, view of dominant social relations. Identity politics and postmodern theorizing subse­quently raised significant questions about whose experience was being used as the normative standard and whether experience could have such a fixed, ontological status. By focusing on debates that surround standpoint theory this allows me to illustrate the theoretical roots of standpoint theory in materialist feminism and the impact of subsequent debate in developing alternative conceptualizations, and politics, which surround experience. Given the centrality of experience to feminist epistemology I also discuss feminist debates on objectivity and the role of the personal in feminist theory and research.

Chapter 8 forms the concluding chapter to the text. I have one primary purpose here. This is to offer ways in which conceptual literacy can be further developed. As will be clear, my primary purpose in writing this text is to offer an approach that will enable students to go beyond simply learning to live with the multiple conceptualizations of key terms. It is to suggest that such multiplicity offers an opportunity for the development of conceptual literacy through which awareness and sensitivity are developed to the political implications of the diversity of conceptual meanings. Thus I am concerned to indicate that one of the dangers of viewing contests over meaning and the politics of language games is that it can suggest an anything goes, relativist and even cynical approach to debate. Conceptual literacy is a recognition that debate and contestation impact on the development of a field of study, on the production of different forms of knowledge and on changing the language of theory and research. Each of these, in turn, impacts on what is viewed as the necessary politics of that field. Thus the consequences of debate are real in very material and tangible ways.

And so all that remains for me to now say is that I hope some of the material in this text is useful to you. I know that I learnt a lot in researching it!

Christina Hughes University of Warwick October 2001