Hypatia 36 (2):1-17 (2021)

Benjamin Davis
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
Contemporary feminist theory by and large agrees on criticizing the traditional, autonomous subject and instead maintains a relational, dependent self, but the vocabulary used to describe the latter remains contested. These contestations are seen in comparing the approach of some feminist legal theory, as demonstrated by Martha Fineman, to the approach of some feminist theory that draws on continental philosophy, as demonstrated by Judith Butler. Fineman's concept of vulnerability emphasizes the universality of vulnerability in the human condition, arguing that a “responsive state” is most conducive to producing subjects who are “resilient” in the face of neoliberal pressures. We argue that vulnerability, as an existential as opposed to a political description, is a limited rubric under which to organize against neoliberal forces. Further, we contend that Fineman's rhetoric of resilience risks reiterating a neoliberal logic of individualized self-management. In response, we look to Butler's concept of precarity, which underscores particular social conditions, as opposed to universal ontological vulnerabilities, that debilitate certain subjects. At stake is how we respond to neoliberal forces today: a vocabulary of precarity poses a more effective challenge than one of vulnerability, for it opens onto not merely individual or institutional resilience but grounded, communal resistance.
Keywords Feminist Theory  Legal Theory  Philosophy of Law  Precarity  Judith Butler  Resistance  Neoliberalism
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DOI 10.1017/hyp.2021.25
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