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The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency

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Home » Books » Nonfiction » Politics » Public Policy » Social Services & Welfare

The Autonomy Myth

A Theory of Dependency

By Professor Martha Albertson Fineman

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Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Other Information: illustrations
Published In: United States, 01 May 2005
With the controversy over gay marriages grabbing national headlines, traditional conceptions of family in America society have become subject to increasingly fierce debate. In The Autonomy Myth, influential and always-provocative legal theorist Martha Albertson Fineman expands the terms of the debate even further to argue for public policy that reflects the realities of how we live together. As Fineman points out, those charged with administering U.S. social policy have long considered the martial family household as both separate and self-sufficient, often at the cost of the well-being of many families and their members, especially children. Vigorously taking issue with this approach. Fineman makes the compelling case that the sexually affiliated couple is not the appropriate building block for contemporary families. Instead, she argues, society should be organized around "caretaking relationships," particularly those involving children or elderly dependents. In this paradigm-shifting book Fineman insists that, because each of us is "inevitably dependent" at various stages in our lives, it makes far more sense for us to recognize from the outset that society as a whole has a vital role to play in providing assistance.

About the Author

Martha Albertson Fineman is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University and Director and Founder of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project.


Noble and hackneyed, from literature ("no man is an island") to pop music ("he ain't heavy, he's my brother"), the idea of humankind's need for one another has probably been around for as long as humankind itself. With the evolution of small, nuclear families, however, the job of caring for others has largely fallen on the traditional, sexually affiliated couple in the family unit, a perception that has been enforced by public policy decisions. Director of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project and Robert Woodruff Professor at Emory Law School, Fineman has taken issue with family law in the past; she previously laid siege to the traditional family unit in The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family. She now challenges the widely held assumption that these separate family units and our high regard for privacy and self-sufficiency are optimal for anyone involved. Since each of us, she argues, is "inevitably dependent" at some point(s) in our lives, our efforts should be focused not on eliminating dependency but on finding ways to cope with it through public agencies and well-compensated caretaking arrangements. Not everyone will agree with Fineman's ideas, but they are provocative and worth reading. Recommended for all libraries. [For an interview with the author, see "Who Cares for Society's Caretakers?" p. 95.-Ed.]-Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

In this fascinating feminist critique of American economics and politics, Fineman advocates policies that acknowledge dependency and promote equality in meeting social needs.

EAN: 9781565849761
ISBN: 1565849760
Publisher: The New Press
Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 3 centimetres (0.43 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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