Vulnerability and Power in the Age of the Anthropocene

Washington and Lee Journal of Energy, Climate, and the Environment (Forthcoming)

UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 370

57 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2014

See all articles by Angela P. Harris

Angela P. Harris

University of California, Davis - King Hall School of Law

Date Written: February 24, 2014

Abstract

For several decades, critical race feminists have struggled with the limits of equality jurisprudence. Recently, feminist legal theorist Martha Fineman has argued that “vulnerability” should be a starting point for thinking about the state’s obligations to its citizens. In this essay, I argue that Fineman’s concept of vulnerability makes an important contribution to the project of situating political and legal theory within the natural world. We live in what some scientists have dubbed the Anthropocene – an age in which our political choices have implications for the flourishing of all life on earth. The idea of vulnerability can serve as an important bridge between critical legal theory and the emerging “green” legal theory. However, I temper this endorsement of vulnerability theory with the observation that, as the environmental policy literature shows, the term “vulnerability” can also mask social inequality and its political sources. Vulnerability must therefore be supplemented with a robust commitment to power analysis as we begin to craft a political theory appropriate to the age of the Anthropocene.

Admit that humans have crawled or secreted themselves into every corner of the environment; admit that the environment is actually inside human bodies and minds, and then proceed politically, technologically, scientifically, in everyday life, with careful forbearance, as you might with unruly relatives to whom you are inextricably bound and with whom you will engage over a lifetime.

Suggested Citation

Harris, Angela P., Vulnerability and Power in the Age of the Anthropocene (February 24, 2014). Washington and Lee Journal of Energy, Climate, and the Environment (Forthcoming); UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 370. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2400651

Angela P. Harris (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - King Hall School of Law ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States
530-752-3276 (Phone)
530-754-5311 (Fax)

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