Learning from the Budapest School women

Pauline Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What can Western feminism hope to learn from women whose feminisms were originally shaped by experiences behind the ‘Iron Curtain’? In the first instance, an acute sensitivity to the importance of a politics that is responsive to needs. In its social democratic heyday, Western feminism had embraced a politics of contested need interpretation. Now, though, a neoliberal version has converted feminism into an attitudinal resource for the individual woman who is bent upon success. The takeover was made easy by the poor self-understanding of social democratic feminism. My paper will compare Agnes Heller’s theory of ‘radical needs’ and Maria Márkus’s account of the ‘politicization of needs’ and apply both to the normative clarification of endangered feminist agendas. We look to the Budapest School women for more than just a way of conceptualizing the political radicalism of modern feminism as a social movement. Women need heroes too and a reflection upon the dignified and admirable lives of Agnes Heller and Maria Márkus has much to contribute to an ongoing search for a feminist ethic of the self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-81
Number of pages13
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • feminism
  • Heller
  • Márkus
  • politicization of needs
  • radical needs


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