Seeing Past the Liberal Legal Subject
Cultural defence, agency and women
The idea of liberal subjectivity prevalent in Western legal traditions assumes a highly autonomous and context-free agent. This assumption of categorical individual agency, I argue, is also in the background of debates on female vulnerability/autonomy relating to multiculturalism, feminism and more precisely, to cultural defence. The notion of agency appears dichotomous when it is discussed in relation to women and culture: the two roles available for women in these discussions are those of either victims or agents. By introducing a case from a Finnish District Court, I will challenge this simplified view of female vulnerability/autonomy and look for a more nuanced way of understanding a legal subject’s agency. In this endeavour, I will build on Martha Fineman’s thoughts on the vulnerable subject on one hand, and Ilana Gershon’s notions on the usefulness of so-called anthropological imagination in studying human agency, on the other.
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