Caring for Deconstruction

Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Vol. 12, 2000

45 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2006


In her 1997 book "Caring for Justice", Robin West issues a call for a "justice of care". In the same work, however, West attacks what she calls "postmodernism," largely because she views it as a threat to her "essentialist" position—the idea that women share essential qualities with each other. However, neither West's call for the mitigation of general justice with particularized care nor her more general project of enriching the law's understanding of women's lives depends on this essentialism. West's refusal to attend to a wide variety of work lumped together as "postmodernism" undermines the strength of her case for a justice of care in at least two important ways. First, West has blinded herself to remarkably similar and important work done in the area of responsibility, ethics and politics by the late Jacques Derrida. Derrida's recent explorations of the tensions between the political necessity for general rules of law and ethical responsibility owed to the singular other both enrich the justice/care debate and highlight opportunities for further theoretical development. Attention to this work can only help West in thinking through the issues she has raised. Second, West's essentialism, premised on the notion that individuals share essential qualities by virtue of their gender, is itself inconsistent with her demand that justice respect each litigant in his or her particularity.

Part II of this Article explores the surprisingly close parallels between Derrida's and West's views of justice. Although their notions of justice as asymmetrical relationships based in responsibility are strikingly similar, Derrida and West arrive at their ideas from quite different directions which suggest different practical possibilities and problems. Part III situates Derrida's writing on justice within the body of his work, in the process attempting to clear away some of the more troublesome misconceptions that have attached themselves to deconstruction in the US. Part IV critiques West's feminist essentialism and its incompatibility with her idea of caring justice. The article concludes by comparing the implications of Derrida's and West's ideas and suggest directions for further research.

Keywords: Derrida, deconstruction, postmodernism, philosophy, jurisprudence, feminism

Suggested Citation

Sheehan, Katherine C., Caring for Deconstruction. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Vol. 12, 2000, Available at SSRN:

Katherine C. Sheehan (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States
213-738-6855 (Phone)
213-383-1688 (Fax)


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