Vulnerability and Social Justice

34 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2019

Date Written: March 14, 2019


This Article briefly considers the origins of the term social justice and its evolution beside our understandings of human rights and liberalism, which are two other significant justice categories. After this reflection on the contemporary meaning of social justice, I suggest that vulnerability theory, which seeks to replace the rational man of liberal legal thought with the vulnerable subject, should be used to define the contours of the term. Recognition of fundamental, universal, and perpetual human vulnerability reveals the fallacies inherent in the ideals of autonomy, independence, and individual responsibility that have supplanted an appreciation of the social. I suggest that we need to develop a robust language of state or collective responsibility, one that recognizes that social justice is realized through the legal creation and maintenance of just social institutions and relationships.

Keywords: social justice, vulnerability theory, inequality, neoliberalism, social institutions, social relationships

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, Vulnerability and Social Justice (March 14, 2019). Forthcoming in 53 Valparaiso University Law Review, 2019, Available at SSRN: or

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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