1 Yale J.L. & Feminism 7 (1989)
Reconceiving Autonomy: Sources, Thoughts and Possibilities

handle is hein.journals/yjfem1 and id is 17 raw text is: Reconceiving Autonomy: Sources,
Thoughts and Possibilities
Jennifer Nedelskyt
A. Feminist Guidance
Feminism requires a new conception of autonomy. The prevailing con-
ception stands at the core of liberal theory and carries with it the individ-
ualism characteristic of liberalism. Such a conception cannot meet the as-
pirations of feminist theory and is inconsistent with its methodology.' The
basic value of autonomy is, however, central to feminism. Feminist theory
must retain the value, while rejecting its liberal incarnation.
Feminism is not, of course, alone in its rejection of liberal individual-
ism. The individualistic premises of liberal theory (and their inadequa-
cies) have become an important subject of debate in contemporary political
and legal theory.' Feminism offers us a particularly promising avenue for
advancing this debate, not because it provides a fully articulated alterna-
t Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law and Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.
This project began when I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation. The Foundation
provided a wonderful community of scholars, who gave me many helpful comments and suggestions. I
am particularly grateful to Robert Merton for his encouragement, probing questions, and general
assistance with this and related projects. Circulating the draft I wrote at Russell Sage first introduced
me to the exciting range of overlapping projects other feminist scholars are engaged in. I received
encouraging and helpful responses from Drucilla Cornell, Kathy Ferguson, and Susan Sherwin. I
would also like to thank the participants in the Yale Legal Theory Workshop for their questions and
comments. Finally, I owe a special thanks to my colleague Hudson Janisch, who first planted the seed
of my interest in administrative law and who has helped me in the area since. Naturally, any errors
are mine alone.
1. Among the many discussions of feminist theory and methodology are: Alison Jagger, FEMINIST
POLITICS AND HUMAN NATURE (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1983); Lorraine Code, Sheila
AND MORALS (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); Sandra Harding, ed., FEMINISM AND
METHODOLOGY: SOCIAL SCIENCE ISSUES (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); Carol Gil-
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); Tronto, Beyond Gender Difference to a Theory of Care, 12
SIGNS 644 (1987) (applying Gilligan's work to political theory); MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism,
Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence, 8 SIGNS 635 (1983); Scales, The Emergence
of Feminist Jurisprudence: An Essay, 95 YALE L.J. 1373 (1986).
2. Among the best known critics of liberal individualism are Alasdair Maclntyre, AFTER VIRTUE:
A STUDY IN MORAL THEORY (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981); Michael
J. Sandel, LIBERALISM AND THE LIMITS OF JUSTICE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1982); Charles Taylor, PHILOSOPHY AND THE HUMAN SCIENCES (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1985), particularly Ch. 7, Atomism. Michael Sandel has edited an excellent collection of
essays on this debate entitled LIBERALISM AND ITS CRITICS (New York: New York University Press,

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