Seeing Past the Liberal Legal Subject

Cultural defence, agency and women


  • Taina Cooke Doctoral student


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.




How to Cite

Cooke, T. (2018). Seeing Past the Liberal Legal Subject: Cultural defence, agency and women. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 42(3), 23–40. Retrieved from