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Friday, September 29, 2006

Research Canons: Feminist Legal Theory

Our next subject matter for the research canons project is Feminist Legal Theory.  (See here for a discussion of the research canons project, including some newly added categories, dates, and links to previous installments.)  Please comment on the books and articles that are essential to a new academic in the field.

Posted by Matt Bodie on September 29, 2006 at 08:27 AM in Research Canons | Permalink


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Two books that surely must be in there are Catherine MacKinnon's _Feminism Unmodified_ and _Towards a Feminist Theory of the State_. I rather wish both were less polemical and more analytic but they are surely both important and required reading. I thought her later _Only Words_ didn't significantly move any issues forward and cannot say anything about her other recent books.

Less strictly legal theory but still very important to the area, I'd think, would be Susan Okin's _Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?_ and even more her _Justice, Gender, and the Family_. The latter, especially, is good for showing how issues relating to women and the family contribute to inequality, and the ways this is reenforced by law.

Posted by: Matt | Sep 29, 2006 9:10:50 AM

I think Elizabeth Spelman's book "Inessential Women: Problems of exclusion in feminist thought" (Belknap Press 1988), and Angela Harris' article, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, 42 STAN. L. REV. 581 (1990) both qualify.

Posted by: David Schraub | Sep 29, 2006 6:42:21 PM

Martha Fineman's The Neutered Mother, The Sexual Family.

Posted by: Femme Law Professor | Sep 30, 2006 3:35:45 AM

Can we encourage some of the feminist law professors out there on the internet to come contribute to this, as I'd be much more interested to hear what they say than what I say.

Posted by: Matt | Sep 30, 2006 8:39:27 AM


Ann Bartow posted the following from her blog, Feminist Law Professors:

Feminist Legal Theory For Beginners?
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

I got a nice and very funny e-mail from an FLP reader who asked whether this blog could begin posting accessible overviews of feminist legal theory for folks who are interested but haven’t been exposed before. It’s an interesting idea and I’m thinking about useful ways to approach such a project. For now, I’m going to list some books that I think do a pretty good job of laying out the basics. If anyone has other recommendations, by all means leave them in the comments or e-mail them to me and I’ll add them to the list.

Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory (2d edition) by Martha Chamallas (Aspen 2003). This book is a kind of treatise, written by one person in a consistent and largely neutral voice, that provides an overview of the basic concepts of feminist legal theory. I think Martha Chamallas did a great job of explaining a lot of complicated concepts in clear, accessible language, and it’s a terrific primer for beginnners. If I was going to teach Feminist Legal Theory to students who were not necessarily feminists, or positively inclined towards feminism themselves, this would be the book I’d rely on initially.

Feminist Legal Theory: A Primer, by Nancy Levit and Robert R.M. Verckick (NYU Press 2006). This book is also excellent. It describes the intersection of feminism and specific social issues in somewhat greater detail than the Chamallas book, with a bit more authorial viewpoint. If someone was teaching Feminist Legal Theory to students who had self-selected into a course because they were specifically interested in feminism, this book would be a great choice.

Feminist Legal Theory: Readings in Law and Gender, edited by Katharine T. Bartlett and Rosanne Kennedy (Westview 1991),

Feminist Legal Theory Foundations, edited by D. Kelly Weisberg (Temple U. Press 1993); and

Feminist Legal Theory: An Anti-Essentialist Reader, edited By Nancy E. Dowd and Michelle S. Jacobs (NYU Press 2003).

These three books are collections of articles and essays by a wide range of feminist legal scholars on a variety of compelling topics. Most of the constituent works of all three books were written for an audience that already knows something about feminist legal theory, although each book also contains a few relatively introductory offerings. The Bartlett & Kennedy and Weisberg books contain very diverse voices and topics, while the Dowd & Jabobs book is more narrowly focused on works that are expressly anti-essentialist (i.e. discuss the impact on and importance to feminism of differences between women).

There are a lot of other terrific books about feminist legal theory, but these are my initial recommendations for newcomers to the field.

–Ann Bartow

UPDATE: Another great book for teaching purposes is a text book: Gender and Law: Theory, Doctrine, Commentary (4th edition) by Katharine Bartlett and Deborah Rhode (Aspen 2006). Feminist law prof Vernellia Randall has taught a “Gender and the Law” course using earlier editions of this book, and her 2004 course website is accessible here.

See: http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?cat=3 (scroll down a bit)

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Sep 30, 2006 12:43:42 PM

In addition to these excellent suggestions, I recommend Kate Bartlett's "Feminist Legal Methods", 103 Harvard Law Review 829 (1990).

I used Martha Chamallas' text in an upper-level undergrad course and echo Ann Bartow's assessment of its strengths.

Posted by: Kristi Bowman | Oct 2, 2006 10:41:48 AM

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