New medical technologies, women’s willingness to talk online and off, and tighter judicial reins on state legislatures are shaking up the practice of abortion. As talk becomes more transparent, Carol Sanger writes, women’s decisions about whether to become mothers will be treated more like those of other adults making significant personal choices.
In the decade after the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion, advocates on both sides sought common ground. But as pro-abortion and anti-abortion positions hardened over time into pro-choice and pro-life, the myth was born that Roe v. Wade was a ruling on a woman’s right to choose. Mary Ziegler’s account offers a corrective.
During the 1970s, grassroots women activists in and outside of prisons forged a radical politics against gender violence and incarceration. Emily L. Thuma traces the making of this anticarceral feminism at the intersections of struggles for racial and economic justice, prisoners’ and psychiatric patients’ rights, and gender and sexual liberation.
All Our Trials explores the organizing, ideas, and influence of those who placed criminalized and marginalized women at the heart of their antiviolence mobilizations. This activism confronted a "tough on crime" political agenda and clashed with the mainstream women’s movement’s strategy of resorting to the criminal legal system as a solution to sexual and domestic violence. Drawing on extensive archival research and first-person narratives, Thuma weaves together the stories of mass defense campaigns, prisoner uprisings, broad-based local coalitions, national gatherings, and radical print cultures that cut through prison walls. In the process, she illuminates a crucial chapter in an unfinished struggle––one that continues in today’s movements against mass incarceration and in support of transformative justice.
At Women’s Expense
Cynthia R. DANIELS Harvard University Press, 1993 Library of Congress KF481.D36 1993 | Dewey Decimal 342.730878
Some say the fetus is the “tiniest citizen.” If so, then the bodies of women themselves have become political arenas—or, recent cases suggest, battlefields. A cocaine-addicted mother is convicted of drug trafficking through the umbilical cord. Women employees at a battery plant must prove infertility to keep their jobs. A terminally ill woman is forced to undergo a cesarean section. No longer concerned with conception or motherhood, the new politics of fetal rights focuses on fertility and pregnancy itself, on a woman’s relationship with the fetus. How exactly, Cynthia Daniels asks, does this affect a woman’s rights? Are they different from a man’s? And how has the state helped determine the difference? The answers, rigorously pursued throughout this book, give us a clear look into the state’s paradoxical role in gender politics—as both a challenger of injustice and an agent of social control.
In benchmark legal cases concerned with forced medical treatment, fetal protectionism in the workplace, and drug and alcohol use and abuse, Daniels shows us state power at work in the struggle between fetal rights and women’s rights. These cases raise critical questions about the impact of gender on women’s standing as citizens, and about the relationship between state power and gender inequality. Fully appreciating the difficulties of each case, the author probes the subtleties of various positions and their implications for a deeper understanding of how a woman’s reproductive capability affects her relationship to state power. In her analysis, the need to defend women’s right to self-sovereignty becomes clear, but so does the need to define further the very concepts of self-sovereignty and privacy.
The intensity of the debate over fetal rights suggests the depth of the current gender crisis and the force of the feelings of social dislocation generated by reproductive politics. Breaking through the public mythology that clouds these debates, At Women’s Expense makes a hopeful beginning toward liberating woman’s body within the body politic.
During the struggle for decolonization, Frantz Fanon argued that artists who mimicked European aestheticism were “beginning at the end,” skipping the inventive phase of youth for a decadence thought more typical of Europe’s declining empires. Robert Stilling takes up Fanon’s assertion to argue that decadence became a key idea in postcolonial thought, describing both the failures of revolutionary nationalism and the assertion of new cosmopolitan ideas about poetry and art.
In Stilling’s account, anglophone postcolonial artists have reshaped modernist forms associated with the idea of art for art’s sake and often condemned as decadent. By reading decadent works by J. K. Huysmans, Walter Pater, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde alongside Chinua Achebe, Derek Walcott, Agha Shahid Ali, Derek Mahon, Yinka Shonibare, Wole Soyinka, and Bernardine Evaristo, Stilling shows how postcolonial artists reimagined the politics of aestheticism in the service of anticolonial critique. He also shows how fin de siècle figures such as Wilde questioned the imperial ideologies of their own era.
Like their European counterparts, postcolonial artists have had to negotiate between the imaginative demands of art and the pressure to conform to a revolutionary politics seemingly inseparable from realism. Beginning at the End argues that both groups—European decadents and postcolonial artists—maintained commitments to artifice while fostering oppositional politics. It asks that we recognize what aestheticism has contributed to politically engaged postcolonial literature. At the same time, Stilling breaks down the boundaries around decadent literature, taking it outside of Europe and emphasizing the global reach of its imaginative transgressions.
For most Americans today, Roe v. Wade concerns just one thing: the right to choose abortion. But the Supreme Court’s decision once meant much more. The justices ruled that the right to privacy encompassed the abortion decision. Grassroots activists and politicians used Roe—and popular interpretations of it—as raw material in answering much larger questions: Is there a right to privacy? For whom, and what is protected?
As Mary Ziegler demonstrates, Roe’s privacy rationale attracted a wide range of citizens demanding social changes unrelated to abortion. Movements questioning hierarchies based on sexual orientation, profession, class, gender, race, and disability drew on Roe to argue for an autonomy that would give a voice to the vulnerable. So did advocates seeking expanded patient rights and liberalized euthanasia laws. Right-leaning groups also invoked Roe’s right to choose, but with a different agenda: to attack government involvement in consumer protection, social welfare, racial justice, and other aspects of American life.
In the 1980s, seeking to unify a fragile coalition, the Republican Party popularized the idea that Roe was a symbol of judicial tyranny, discouraging anyone from relying on the decision to frame their demands. But Beyond Abortion illuminates the untapped potential of arguments that still resonate today. By recovering the diversity of responses to Roe, and the legal and cultural battles it energized, Ziegler challenges readers to come to terms with the uncomfortable fact that privacy belongs to no party or cause.
Catharine A. MacKinnon Harvard University Press, 2017 Library of Congress KF4758.M327 2017 | Dewey Decimal 342.730878
The miniscule motion of a butterfly’s wings can trigger a tornado half a world away, according to chaos theory. Catharine A. MacKinnon’s collected work on gender inequality—including new pieces—argues that the right seemingly minor interventions in the legal realm can have a butterfly effect that generates major social and cultural transformations.
In Courts and Commerce, Deborah A. Rosen intertwines economic history, legal history, and the history of gender. Relying on extensive analysis of probate inventories, tax lists, court records, letter books, petitions to the governor, and other documents from the eighteenth century—some never before studied—Rosen describes the expansion of the market economy in colonial New York and the way in which the law provided opportunities for eighteenth-century men to expand their economic networks while at the same time constraining women's opportunities to engage in market relationships. The book is unusual in its range of interests: it pays special attention to a comparison of urban and rural regions, it examines the role of law in fostering economic development, and it contrasts the different experiences of men and women as the economy changed.
Courts and Commerce challenges the idealized image of colonial America that has dominated historiography on the colonial period. In contrast to scholars who have portrayed the colonial period as a golden age for communal values and who have described nineteenth-century developments as if they had no eighteenth-century precedents, Rosen demonstrates that the traditionally described communal model of eighteenth-century America is a myth, and that in many ways the two eras are marked more by continuity than by change.
Deborah Rosen demonstrates that a market economy based on arm’s-length relationships did not suddenly emerge in the nineteenth century but already existed during the eighteenth century; that women became marginalized from the economy well before industrialization sent their husbands off to factories; and that the law shaped economic development a century or more before judges began to redefine the substance of the law to protect manufacturers and railway owners against expensive lawsuits by injured employees, neighbors, and consumers.
This bold and thought-provoking work will find a welcome audience among scholars of colonial American history, economic, social, and legal history, and women's studies.
Cultural views of femininity exerted a powerful influence on the courtroom arguments used to defend or condemn notable women on trial in nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century America. A. Cheree Carlson analyzes the colorful rhetorical strategies employed by lawyers and reporters in the trials of several women of varying historical stature, from the insanity trials of Mary Todd Lincoln and Lizzie Borden's trial for the brutal slaying of her father and stepmother, to lesser-known trials involving insanity, infidelity, murder, abortion, and interracial marriage. Carlson reveals clearly just how narrow was the line that women had to walk, since the same womanly virtues that were expected of them--passivity, frailty, and purity--could be turned against them at any time. With gripping retellings and incisive analysis, this book will appeal to historians, rhetoricians, feminist researchers, and anyone who enjoys courtroom drama.
At what age do girls gain the maturity to make sexual choices? This question provokes especially vexed debates in India, where early marriage is a widespread practice. India has served as a focal problem site in NGO campaigns and intergovernmental conferences setting age standards for sexual maturity. Over the last century, the country shifted the legal age of marriage from twelve, among the lowest in the world, to eighteen, at the high end of the global spectrum. Ashwini Tambe illuminates the ideas that shaped such shifts: how the concept of adolescence as a sheltered phase led to delaying both marriage and legal adulthood; how the imperative of population control influenced laws on marriage age; and how imperial moral hierarchies between nations provoked defensive postures within India. Tambe takes a transnational feminist approach to legal history, showing how intergovernmental debates influenced Indian laws and how expert discourses in India changed UN terminology about girls. Ultimately, Tambe argues, the well-meaning focus on child marriage has been tethered less to the interests of girls themselves and more to parents’ interests, achieving population control targets, and preserving national reputation.
Family Law Reimagined
Jill Elaine Hasday Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress KF505.H39 2014 | Dewey Decimal 346.73015
This is the first book to explore the canonical narratives, stories, examples, and ideas that legal decisionmakers invoke to explain family law and its governing principles. Jill Elaine Hasday shows how this canon misdescribes the reality of family law, misdirects attention away from actual problems family law confronts, and misshapes policies.
A transformative progressive politics requires the state's reimagining. But how should the state be reimagined, and what can invigorate this process? In Feeling Like a State, Davina Cooper explores the unexpected contribution a legal drama of withdrawal might make to conceptualizing a more socially just, participative state. In recent years, as gay rights have expanded, some conservative Christians—from charities to guesthouse owners and county clerks—have denied people inclusion, goods, and services because of their sexuality. In turn, liberal public bodies have withdrawn contracts, subsidies, and career progression from withholding conservative Christians. Cooper takes up the discourses and practices expressed in this legal conflict to animate and support an account of the state as heterogeneous, plural, and erotic. Arguing for the urgent need to put new imaginative forms into practice, Cooper examines how dissident and experimental institutional thinking materialize as people assert a democratic readiness to recraft the state.
Judith A. Baer Temple University Press, 2020 Library of Congress HQ1155.B34 2020 | Dewey Decimal 305.42
Feminism and liberalism need each other, argues Judith Baer. Her provocative book, Feminist Post-Liberalism, refutes both conservative and radical critiques. To make her case, she rejects classical liberalism in favor of a welfare—and possibly socialist—post-liberalism that will prevent capitalism and a concentration of power that reinforces male supremacy. Together, feminism and liberalism can better elucidate controversies in American politics, law, and society.
Baer emphasizes that tolerance and self-examination are virtues, but within both feminist and liberal thought these virtues have been carried to extremes. Feminist theory needs liberalism's respect for reason, while liberal theory needs to incorporate emotion. Liberalism focuses too narrowly on the individual, while feminism needs a dose of individualism.
Feminist Post-Liberalism includes anthropological foundations of male dominance to explore topics ranging from crime to cultural appropriation. Baer develops a theory that is true to the principles of both feminist and liberal ideologies.
Libby Adler offers a comprehensive critique of the mainstream LGBT legal agenda in the United States, showing how LGBT equal rights discourse drives legal advocates toward a narrow array of reform objectives that do little to help the lives of the most marginalized members of the LGBT community.
William N. ESKRIDGE Harvard University Press, 1999 Library of Congress KF4754.5.E84 1999 | Dewey Decimal 342.73087
This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the legal issues concerning gender and sexual nonconformity in the United States. Part One, which covers the years from the post-Civil War period to the 1980s, is a history of state efforts to discipline and punish the behavior of homosexuals and other people considered to be deviant. During this period such people could get by only at the cost of suppressing their most basic feelings and emotions. Part Two addresses contemporary issues. Although it is no longer illegal to be openly gay in America, homosexuals still suffer from state discrimination in the military and in other realms, and private discrimination and violence against gays is prevalent. William Eskridge presents a rigorously argued case for the "sexualization" of the First Amendment, showing why, for example, same-sex ceremonies and intimacy should be considered "expressive conduct" deserving the protection of the courts. The author draws on legal reasoning, sociological studies, and history to develop an effective response to the arguments made in defense of the military ban. The concluding part of the book locates the author's legal arguments within the larger currents of liberal theory and integrates them into a general stance toward freedom, gender equality, and religious pluralism.
Recently, new methods of dispute resolution in matters of family law—such as arbitration, mediation, and conciliation—have created new forms of legal culture that affect minority communities throughout the world. There are now multiple ways of obtaining restitution through nontraditional alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms. For some, the emergence of ADRs can be understood as part of a broader liberal response to the challenges presented by the settlement of migrant communities in Western liberal democracies. Questions of rights are framed as “multicultural challenges” that give rise to important issues relating to power, authority, agency, and choice. Underpinning these debates are questions about the doctrine and practice of secularism, citizenship, belonging, and identity. Gender and Justice in Family Law Disputes offers insights into how women’s autonomy and personal decision-making capabilities are expressed via multiple formal and nonformal dispute-resolution mechanisms, and as part of their social and legal lived realities. It analyzes the specific ways in which both mediation and religious arbitration take shape in contemporary and comparative family law across jurisdictions. Demarcating lines between contemporary family mediation and new forms of religious arbitration, Bano illuminates the complexities of these processes across multiple national contexts.
Alison Bass weaves the true stories of sex workers with the latest research on prostitution into a gripping journalistic account of how women (and some men) navigate a culture that routinely accepts the implicit exchange of sex for money, status, or even a good meal, but imposes heavy penalties on those who make such bargains explicit. Along the way, Bass examines why an increasing number of middle-class white women choose to become sex workers and explores how prostitution has become a thriving industry in the twenty-first-century global economy. Situating her book in American history more broadly, she also discusses the impact of the sexual revolution, the rise of the Nevada brothels, and the growing war on sex trafficking after 9/11. Drawing on recent studies that show lower rates of violence and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, in regions where adult prostitution is legal and regulated, Bass makes a powerful case for decriminalizing sex work. Through comparisons of the impact of criminalization vs. decriminalization in other countries, her book offers strategies for making prostitution safer for American sex workers and the communities in which they dwell. This riveting assessment of how U.S. anti-prostitution laws harm the public health and safety of sex workers and other citizens—and affect larger societal attitudes toward women—will interest feminists, sociologists, lawyers, health-care professionals, and policy makers. The book also will appeal to anyone with an interest in American history and our society’s evolving attitudes toward sexuality and marriage.
The bitter and public court battle waged between Nina and James Walker of Newport, Rhode Island from 1909 to 1916 created a sensation throughout the nation with lurid accounts of—and gossip about—their marital troubles. The ordeal of this high-society couple, who wed as much for status as for love, is one of the prime examples of the growing trend of women seeking divorce during the early twentieth century.
Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness—the charges Nina levied at James for his adultery (with the family governess) and extreme cruelty—recounts the protracted legal proceedings in juicy detail.
Jean Elson uses court documents, correspondence, journals, and interviews with descendants to recount the salacious case. In the process, she underscores how divorce—in an era when women needed husbands for economic support—was associated with women’s aspirations for independence and rights. The Walkers’ dispute, replete with plot twists and memorable characters, sheds light on a critical period in the evolution of American culture.
Janice Schuetz investigates the felony trials of nine American women from colonial Salem to the present: Rebecca Nurse, tried for witchcraft in 1692; Mary E. Surratt, tried in 1865 for assisting John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; Lizzie Andrew Borden, tried in 1892 for the ax murder of her father and stepmother; Margaret Sanger, tried in 1915, 1917, and 1929 for her actions in support of birth control; Ethel Rosenberg, tried in 1951 for aiding the disclosure of secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviets; Yvonne Wanrow, tried in 1974 for killing a man who molested her neighbor’s daughter; Patricia Campbell Hearst, tried in 1975 for bank robbery as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army; Jean Harris, tried in 1982 for killing Herman Tarnower, the Diet Doctor; and Darci Kayleen Pierce, tried in 1988 for kidnapping and brutally murdering a pregnant woman, then removing the baby from the woman’s womb.
In her analysis, Schuetz is careful to define these trials as popular trials. Characteristically, popular trials involve persons, issues, or crimes of social interest that attract extensive public interest and involvement. Such trials make a contribution to the ongoing historical dialogue about the meaning of justice and the legal system, while reflecting the values of the time and place in which they occur.
Schuetz examines the kinds of communication that transpired and the importance of gender in the trials by applying a different current rhetorical theory to each trial text. In every chapter, she explains her chosen interpretive theory, compares that framework with the discourse of the trial, and makes judgments about the meaning of the trial texts based on the interpretive theory.
Wait—what's wrong with rights? It is usually assumed that trans and gender nonconforming people should follow the civil rights and "equality" strategies of lesbian and gay rights organizations by agitating for legal reforms that would ostensibly guarantee nondiscrimination and equal protection under the law. This approach assumes that the best way to address the poverty and criminalization that plague trans populations is to gain legal recognition and inclusion in the state's institutions. But is this strategy effective?
In Normal Life Dean Spade presents revelatory critiques of the legal equality framework for social change, and points to examples of transformative grassroots trans activism that is raising demands that go beyond traditional civil rights reforms. Spade explodes assumptions about what legal rights can do for marginalized populations, and describes transformative resistance processes and formations that address the root causes of harm and violence.
In the new afterword to this revised and expanded edition, Spade notes the rapid mainstreaming of trans politics and finds that his predictions that gaining legal recognition will fail to benefit trans populations are coming to fruition. Spade examines recent efforts by the Obama administration and trans equality advocates to "pinkwash" state violence by articulating the US military and prison systems as sites for trans inclusion reforms. In the context of recent increased mainstream visibility of trans people and trans politics, Spade continues to advocate for the dismantling of systems of state violence that shorten the lives of trans people. Now more than ever, Normal Life is an urgent call for justice and trans liberation, and the radical transformations it will require.
Now Available in Paperback from Duke University Press
Wait—what's wrong with rights? It is usually assumed that trans and gender nonconforming people should follow the civil rights and “equality” strategies of lesbian and gay rights organizations by agitating for legal reforms that would ostensibly guarantee equal access, nondiscrimination, and equal protection under the law. This approach assumes that the best way to address the poverty and criminalization that plague trans populations is to get recognized by law and included in the state's institutions. But does changing what the law says about a targeted and marginalized population bring material relief? And what if many of the problems that shorten trans people's lives stem from the ordinary, banal ways that gender norm categories are administered by virtually every state and private institution?
In Normal Life Dean Spade presents revelatory critiques of the legal equality framework for social change and points to examples of transformative grassroots trans activism that is raising demands that go beyond traditional civil rights reforms. Spade explodes the assumptions about what legal rights can do for marginalized populations and describes transformative resistance processes and formations that address the root causes of harm and violence. Setting forth a politic that goes beyond the quest for mere legal inclusion, Normal Life is an urgent call for justice and trans liberation, and the radical transformations it will require.
Fiercely committed to the separation of church and state, thoroughly pluralistic, largely secular: Where does a society like ours find common terms for conducting a moral debate? In view of the crises surrounding the issue of abortion, it is tempting to answer: nowhere. In this timely and provocative book, Elizabeth Mensch and Alan Freeman urge that we challenge the extremes of both the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" views of the abortion issue and affirm the moral integrity of compromise. Attempting to restore a level of complexity to the discussion and to enrich public debate so that we may move beyond our current impasse, the authors argue that it is essential to understand how issues of legal "rights" and theological concerns interact in American public debate. Returning to the years leading up to Roe v. Wade, Mensch and Freeman detail the role of religion and its relationship to the emerging politics of abortion. Discussing primarily the natural law tradition associated with Catholicism and the Protestant ethical tradition, the authors focus most sharply on the 1960s in which the present terms of the abortion debate were set. In a skillful analysis, they identify a variety of factors that directed and shaped the debate--including, among others, the haunting legacy of Nazism, the moral challenge of the civil rights movement, the "God is dead" discourse, school prayer and Bible reading, Harvey Cox's The Secular City, the Berrigans and Vietnam, the animal rights movement, and the movement of the church-going population away from mainstream Protestant tradition toward evangelical fundamentalism. By criticizing the rhetoric employed by both the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" camps, Mensch and Freeman reveal the extent to which forces on either side of the issue have failed to respond to relevant concerns. Since Roe v. Wade, the authors charge, public debate has seemed to concede the moral high ground to the "pro-life" position, while the "pro-choice" rhetoric has appeared to defend an individual's legal right to do moral wrong. Originally published as a special issue of The Georgia Law Review (Spring 1991), this revised and expanded edition will be welcomed by all those frustrated by the impasse of debates so central to our nation's moral life.
Presumed Incompetent is a pathbreaking account of the intersecting roles of race, gender, and class in the working lives of women faculty of color. Through personal narratives and qualitative empirical studies, more than 40 authors expose the daunting challenges faced by academic women of color as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education, including hiring, promotion, tenure, and relations with students, colleagues, and administrators. The narratives are filled with wit, wisdom, and concrete recommendations, and provide a window into the struggles of professional women in a racially stratified but increasingly multicultural America.
Reasoning from Race
Serena Mayeri Harvard University Press, 2011 Library of Congress KF4758.M39 2011 | Dewey Decimal 342.730878
In the 1960s and 1970s, analogies between sex discrimination and racial injustice became potent weapons in the battle for women’s rights, as feminists borrowed rhetoric and legal arguments from the civil rights movement. Serena Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race is the first history of this key strategy and its consequences for American law.
What role has litigation played in the struggle for equal pay between women and men? In Rights at Work, Michael W. McCann explains how wage discrimination battles have raised public legal consciousness and helped reform activists mobilize working women in the pay equity movement over the past two decades.
Rights at Work explores the political strategies in more than a dozen pay equity struggles since the late 1970s, including battles of state employees in Washington and Connecticut, as well as city employees in San Jose and Los Angeles. Relying on interviews with over 140 union and feminist activists, McCann shows that, even when the courts failed to correct wage discrimination, litigation and other forms of legal advocacy provided reformers with the legal discourse—the understanding of legal rights and their constraints—for defining and advancing their cause.
Rights at Work offers new insight into the relation between law and social change—the ways in which grass roots social movements work within legal rights traditions to promote progressive reform.
A rhetorical analysis of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s feminist jurisprudence
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lifelong effort to reshape the language of American law has had profound consequences: she has shifted the rhetorical boundaries of jurisprudence on a wide range of fundamental issues from equal protection to reproductive rights. Beginning in the early 1970s, Ginsburg led a consequential attack on sexist law in the United States. By directly confronting the patriarchal voice of the law, she pointedly challenged an entrenched genre of legal language that silenced the voices and experiences of American women and undermined their status as equal citizens. On the United States Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg continues to challenge the traditional scripts of legal discourse to insist on a progressive vision of the Constitution and to demand a more inclusive and democratic body of law.
This illuminating work examines Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions in reshaping the rhetoric of the law (specifically through the lens of watershed cases in women’s rights) and describes her rhetorical contributions—beginning with her work in the 1970s as a lawyer and an advocate for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project through her tenure as a Supreme Court justice. Katie L. Gibson examines Ginsburg’s rhetoric to argue that she has dramatically shifted the boundaries of legal language. Gibson draws from rhetorical theory, critical legal theory, and feminist theory to describe the law as a rhetorical genre, arguing that Ginsburg’s jurisprudence can appropriately be understood as a direct challenge to the traditional rhetoric of the law.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg stands as an incredibly important figure in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century feminism. While a growing number of admirers celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s voice of dissent today, Ginsburg’s rhetorical legacy reveals that she has long articulated a sharp and strategic voice of judicial dissent. This study contributes to a more complete understanding of her feminist legacy by detailing the unique contributions of her legal rhetoric.
We live in a world where seemingly everything can be measured. We rely on indicators to translate social phenomena into simple, quantified terms, which in turn can be used to guide individuals, organizations, and governments in establishing policy. Yet counting things requires finding a way to make them comparable. And in the process of translating the confusion of social life into neat categories, we inevitably strip it of context and meaning—and risk hiding or distorting as much as we reveal.
With The Seductions of Quantification, leading legal anthropologist Sally Engle Merry investigates the techniques by which information is gathered and analyzed in the production of global indicators on human rights, gender violence, and sex trafficking. Although such numbers convey an aura of objective truth and scientific validity, Merry argues persuasively that measurement systems constitute a form of power by incorporating theories about social change in their design but rarely explicitly acknowledging them. For instance, the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, which ranks countries in terms of their compliance with antitrafficking activities, assumes that prosecuting traffickers as criminals is an effective corrective strategy—overlooking cultures where women and children are frequently sold by their own families. As Merry shows, indicators are indeed seductive in their promise of providing concrete knowledge about how the world works, but they are implemented most successfully when paired with context-rich qualitative accounts grounded in local knowledge.
The first volume of the International Center for Transitional Justice's new Advancing Transitional Justice Series.
Published with the support of the International Development Research Centre.
What happens to women whose lives are transformed by human rights violations? What happens to the voices of victimized women once they have their day in court or in front of a truth commission? Women face a double marginalization under authoritarian regimes and during and after violent conflicts. Nonetheless, reparations programs are rarely designed to address the needs of women victims. What Happened to the Women? Gender and Reparations for Human Rights Violations, argues for the introduction of a gender dimension into reparations programs. The volume explores gender and reparations policies in Guatemala, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Timor-Leste.