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The Vulnerable Subject and the Responsive State


Martha Albertson Fineman


Emory University School of Law


Emory Law Journal, Vol. 60
Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-130

Abstract:     
Since there is also no U.S. constitutional guarantee to basic social goods, such as housing, education, or health care, the anti-discrimination, sameness-of-treatment approach to equality prevalent in the United States is particularly problematic. The discourse of human rights that supports claims to such goods in European and other countries does not exist in America. We have not ratified many of the international agreements, including those associated with economic rights, as well as CEDAW and CRC. The courts are little help. In fact, attempts to apply human rights ideals internally - to American practices and laws - have been met with resistance, if not outright rejection. Several Justices of the Supreme Court decried references to human rights principles used to bolster arguments about constitutionality under American precedent to be the application of "foreign fads" when (superior) American constitutional provisions should prevail.

My development of the concept of vulnerability and the idea of a vulnerable subject began as a stealthily disguised human rights discourse, fashioned for an American audience. The concept has evolved from those early articulations, and I now think it has some significant differences as an approach, particularly in that a focus on vulnerability is decidedly focused on exploring the nature of the human part, rather than the rights part, of the human rights trope. Importantly, consideration of vulnerability brings societal institutions, in addition to the state and individual, into the discussion and under scrutiny. Vulnerability is posited as the characteristic that positions us in relation to each other as human beings and also suggests a relationship of responsibility between state and individual. The nature of human vulnerability forms the basis for a claim that the state must be more responsive to that vulnerability and do better at ensuring the "All-American" promise of equality of opportunity.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: Vulnerability, human rights, equality, justice, discriminiation, legal theory, U.S. constitional law, autonomy

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Date posted: October 21, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, The Vulnerable Subject and the Responsive State. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 60; Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-130. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1694740

Contact Information

Martha Albertson Fineman (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2421 (Phone)
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