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Martha Albertson Fineman

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Title: Martha Albertson Fineman  
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Subject: Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative, Michael J. Perry, Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Care work, Harold J. Berman
Collection: 1943 Births, 20Th-Century Philosophers, 21St-Century Philosophers, American Feminists, American Legal Scholars, American Legal Writers, American Philosophers, American Political Philosophers, American Women Lawyers, American Women Philosophers, Center for American Progress People, Columbia University Faculty, Cornell University Faculty, Critical Theorists, Emory University Faculty, Feminist Studies Scholars, Living People, Philosophers of Law, Postmodern Feminists, Temple University Alumni, University of Chicago Law School Alumni, University of Wisconsin–madison Faculty
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Martha Albertson Fineman

Martha Albertson Fineman
Born 1943 (age 72–73)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Critical legal theory, feminist legal theory
Institutions Emory University School of Law (2004–)
Cornell Law School (1999–2004)
Columbia Law School (1990–1999)
University of Wisconsin Law School (1976–1990)
Main interests
Jurisprudence, political philosophy, family law
Notable ideas
Vulnerability theory

Martha Albertson Fineman (born 1943) is an American jurist and legal theorist, known for her work in feminist legal theory and family law. She is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law. Fineman was previously the first holder of the Dorothea S. Clarke Professorship of Feminist Jurisprudence at Cornell Law School and held the Maurice T. Moore Professorship at Columbia Law School. She is an affiliated scholar of the Center for American Progress and has been described as a "close friend of the Obama administration."[1]

Much of her early scholarship focuses on the legal regulation of family and intimacy; she has since broadened her scope to focus on the legal implications of universal dependency, vulnerability and justice. Her recent work formulates a theory of vulnerability, in order to argue for a more responsive state and a more egalitarian society. Fineman directs the Feminism and Legal Theory Project, which she founded in 1984.[2] She is considered "the preeminent feminist family theorist of our time."[3]


  • Career 1
  • Work on dependency and vulnerability 2
  • Awards and recognitions 3
  • Publications 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Fineman has a B.A. from Temple University (1971) and a J.D. from the University of Chicago (1975). She clerked for the Hon. Luther Merritt Swygert of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and was on faculty at the University of Wisconsin Law School from 1976 to 1990. She was appointed as the Maurice T. Moore Professor of Law at Columbia Law School in 1990, and as the first Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Feminist Jurisprudence at Cornell Law School in 1999. The Clarke professorship is the first endowed chair in feminist jurisprudence at a law school in the United States. Since 2004, she has been Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law, which is that institution’s highest honor bestowed on a faculty member,[4] "reserved for world-class scholars who are not only proven leaders of their own fields of specialty but also ambitious bridge-builders across specialty disciplines."[5] She is the third legal scholar after Harold J. Berman and Michael J. Perry to be appointed to such a chair.

Fineman directs the Feminism and Legal Theory Project, which she founded in 1984 and which has been housed by the University of Wisconsin Law School, Columbia Law School, Cornell Law School, and Emory Law. The Feminism and Legal Theory Project nurtures scholars from around the world, bringing them together to study and debate a wide range of topics related to feminist theory and law.[6] She also directs the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative which was founded in 2008 at Emory Law School. Fineman is an affiliated scholar of the Center for American Progress.[7]

Work on dependency and vulnerability

In her 2004 book The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency, Fineman "argues that popular ideology in the United States has become fixated on the myth that citizens are and should be autonomous. Yet the fact that dependency is unavoidable in any society and must be dealt with to sustain the polity, Fineman contends, gives the state the responsibility to support caretaking."[8]

Her 2008 article "The Vulnerable Subject" in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism develops a theory of vulnerability in order to argue for a more responsive state and a more egalitarian society. The article forms the basis for her 2011 book, also titled The Vulnerable Subject.

Fineman argues:

"Vulnerability is and should be understood to be universal and constant, inherent in the human condition. The vulnerability approach is an alternative to traditional equal protection analysis; it represents a post-identity inquiry in that it is not focused only on discrimination against defined groups, but concerned with privilege and favor conferred on limited segments of the population by the state and broader society through their institutions. As such, vulnerability analysis concentrates on the institutions and structures our society has and will establish to manage our common vulnerabilities. This approach has the potential to move us beyond the stifling confines of current discrimination-based models toward a more substantive vision of equality."[9]

According to Selberg and Wegerstad,

"Fundamental to Fineman’s scholarly work is a feminist critique of notions of equality, the liberal subject and prevailing anti-discrimination politics. According to Fineman, the current anti-discrimination doctrine assumes that discrimination is the discoverable and correctable exception to an otherwise just and fair system, characterized by values such as individual liberty and autonomy. Developing her work on dependency, Fineman raises the question: if our bodily fragility, material needs, and the possibility of messy dependency they signify cannot be ignored in life, how can they be absent in our theories about equality, society, politics and law?' Moving beyond gender and other identity categories, Fineman uses the concept of vulnerability to 'define the very meaning of what it means to be human.'"[10]

Awards and recognitions

Fineman is the recipient of numerous scholarly awards, including the 2008 Cook Award from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University,[11] and the 2006–2007 Leverhulme Visiting Professorship, one of the United Kingdom's top academic honors.[12] She is also the recipient of the prestigious Harry Kalven Prize,[13] awarded by the Law and Society Association to a scholar whose body of "empirical scholarship has contributed most effectively to the advancement of research in law and society."[14] In March 2004, a symposium of some 500 scholars and students gathered at Emory University School of Law to celebrate the scholarship of its three Robert W. Woodruff Professors of Law, Harold J. Berman, Martha Albertson Fineman, and Michael J. Perry, and Visiting Professor Martin E. Marty.[15]

She was Pritzker Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Northwestern University School of Law in 1997, was Distinguished Associated Professor at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs in 2003, has held an honorary Professorship at Queen's University Belfast since 2004, was awarded the Ruth Bader Ginsberg Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Thomas Jefferson Law School in 2005 and has held the Hedda Andersson Visiting Professorship at Lund University since 2012.

In 2013 Lund University awarded her an honorary doctorate. The Faculty of Law named Fineman and former Swedish Chief Justice Johan Munck as its new honorary doctors in 2013.[16]


Fineman has published widely, and, according to one study, is the eighth most cited scholar of critical legal theory.[17] Her books are

  • The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition (Princeton University Press, 2013)
  • The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency (The New Press, 2004)
  • The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family, and Other Twentieth Century Tragedies (Routledge, 1995)
  • The Illusion of Equality: The Rhetoric and Reality of Divorce Reform (University of Chicago Press, 1991).

Fineman has also edited or co-edited the following critical legal theory volumes:

  • Vulnerability: Reflections on a New Ethical Foundation for Law and Politics (Ashgate, 2014; co-editor Anna Grear)[18]
  • Transcending the Boundaries of Law: Generations of Feminism and Legal Theory (Routledge, 2010)
  • What Is Right for Children? The Competing Paradigms of Religion and Human Rights (Ashgate, 2009; co-editor Karen Worthington)
  • Feminist and Queer Legal Theory: Intimate Encounters, Uncomfortable Conversations (Ashgate, 2009, co-editors Jack E. Jackson and Adam P. Romero)
  • Feminism Confronts Homo Economicus: Gender, Law, and Society (Cornell University Press, 2005; co-editor Terrance Doherty)
  • Feminism, Media, and the Law (Oxford University Press, 1997; co-editor Martha T. McCluskey)
  • Mothers in Law: Feminism and the Legal Regulation of Motherhood (Columbia University Press, 1995; co-editor Isabel Karpin)
  • The Public Nature of Private Violence: Women and the Discovery of Abuse (Routledge, 1994, co-editor Roxanne Mykitiuk)
  • At the Boundaries of Law: Feminism and Legal Theory (Routledge, 1990, co-editor Nancy Sweet Thomadsen).

At the Boundaries of Law is the first volume of feminist legal theory.

She has published numerous journal articles and essays. Her most widely cited articles include

  • "Dominant discourse, professional language, and legal change in child custody decisionmaking", Harvard Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 4 (Feb., 1988), pp. 727–774 (cited over 600 times as of 2014)
  • "Images of Mothers in Poverty Discourses", Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1991, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), pp. 274–295
  • "Implementing Equality: Ideology, Contradiction and Social Change-A Study of Rhetoric and Results in the Regulation of the Consequences of Divorce", Wisconsin Law Review, 789 (1983)
  • "Cracking the Foundational Myths: Independence, Autonomy, and Self-Sufficiency", American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 8, no.1 (2000): 13-29
  • "The Uses of Social Science Data in Legal Policymaking: Custody Determinations at Divorce", Wisconsin Law Review, 107 (1987)
  • "Challenging Law, Establishing Differences: The Future of Feminist Legal Scholarship", Florida Law Review, 42, 1 (1990)
  • "Masking Dependency: The Political Role of Family Rhetoric", Virginia Law Review, 81, 2181 (1995)
  • "Law and Changing Patterns of Behavior: Sanctions on Non-Marital Cohabitation", Wisconsin Law Review, 275 (1981)
  • "Intimacy Outside of the Natural Family: The Limits of Privacy", Connecticut Law Review, 23, 955 (1990-1991)
  • "Contract and Care", Chicago-Kent Law Review, 76, 1403 (2000-2001)
  • "Feminist Theory in Law: The Difference It Makes", Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, 1 (1992)


  1. ^ Rand Paul, Don’t Swallow The Bait, July 9, 2015
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Emory Law School: Martha Albertson Fineman
  5. ^ Thomas C. Arthur and John Witte, Jr., "The Foundations of Law: Introduction", 54 Emory Law Journal, 1-375 (2005).
  6. ^ Emory Law School: Feminism & Legal Theory
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ M. Fineman, "The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition", Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2008
  10. ^
  11. ^ State, Work, and Family: Constructing Equality
  12. ^ Professor Fineman Awarded Prestigious Leverhulme Visiting Professorship
  13. ^ Kalven Prize Winners
  14. ^ Association Prizes
  15. ^ Thomas C. Arthur and John Witte, Jr., "The Foundations of Law: Introduction", 54 Emory Law Journal, 1-375 (2005).
  16. ^,c9358618
  17. ^ Brian Leiter Most Cited Law Professors by Specialty, 2000-2007
  18. ^

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Albert J. Rosenthal
Maurice T. Moore Professor of Law at Columbia Law School
1990 – 1999
Succeeded by
Preceded by
First holder of chair
Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Feminist Jurisprudence at Cornell Law School
1999 – 2004
Succeeded by
Cynthia Grant Bowman
Preceded by
Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory Law
2004 –
Succeeded by
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