Contract and Care

38 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2012

Date Written: 2001


America has a historic and highly romanticized affair with the ideal of the private and the individual as appropriate units of focus in determining social good. If a child is part of that private landscape, it is deemed a private matter. Children are like any other item of consumption, a matter of individual preference and individual responsibility.

This stance has even been taken by self-identified feminist legal scholars and scholars otherwise aligning themselves with progressive positions. Of particular relevance to debates about dependency are feminist attempts to show the ways in which the dichotomous concepts of public and private have significant political implications. The idea that the private is generally preferable as a means of responding to need and dependency is more and more firmly enmeshed with our sense of social justice.

This article argues the opposite, asserting the necessity of a public responsibility for dependency – a status or condition that historically has been deemed appropriately assigned to the private sphere. The privatization of dependency continues unequal and gendered division of family labor, which burdens women more than men.

Dependency warrants a more public, supportive, and collective response to the needs of caretakers. Caretaking labor should not be viewed as socially productive only when directed at improving the situation of others. The arguments made about exploitation in regard to caretaking are applicable to the situation of those who are providing for the needs, growth, and maintenance of society and its institutions but whose labor is undervalued within our version of the ideology free market capitalism. Arguments that began with recognition of caretaking evolve into a claim for universal provision of basic social goods based simply on recognition of un- or undercompensated contributions to society and its institutions and the fact that contributions should be valued in a public, positive, and egalitarian fashion.

Keywords: dependency, caretaking, feminism, progressivism, capitalism, collective, individual, private sphere, public sphere

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, Contract and Care (2001). Chicago-Kent Law Review, Vol. 76, 2001, Emory Public Law Research Paper , Available at SSRN:

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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