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Relational autonomy from a political perspective

Gauthier-Chung, Maud Faïle (2017) Relational autonomy from a political perspective. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.g1vu1dkyxrmg

Abstract

Individual autonomy is crucial to both liberalism and feminism and, to some extent, for similar reasons: that is, the insistence on everyone being able to shape her own life and not just have it shaped for her. As it is currently understood, however, this ideal is a source of great dissatisfaction for feminists. For one, it is blind to the ‘problem of oppression’ –that is the way social factors, such as oppressive gender norms, can affect individuals’ capacity to lead a selfgoverned life. In addition, on the political level, autonomy is aligned with individualism, independence and rationality. This makes it an exclusionary ideal, which, under the cover of universalism, promotes a prejudiced and narrow vision of what agents and preferences should be seen as worthy of respect. I refer to this as the problem of exclusion. My thesis is an attempt to reframe our understanding of autonomy in order to answer these two problems. I argue that the relational accounts of autonomy feminists have articulated should be understood as motivated by the need to address these key concerns (Ch. 1). However, none of the relational accounts developed so far truly succeed in simultaneously addressing the problem of oppression and the problem of exclusion (Ch. 2). I suggest that this is because they are still too individualistic in their focus and remain fixed on the question of what individual agent and/or preference should be considered autonomous. In order to ensure we avoid the problem of exclusion, I propose we remain agnostic towards this question. This results in a systematic presumption of autonomy, which commits us to demonstrate respect to all agents (especially vulnerable ones), as well as to their declared preferences. Such a commitment, however, should not lead us to overlook the problem of oppression. In order to address this problem, I argue that we should devote our attention to the way the socio-relational context structures how agents can plausibly exercise their autonomy. In other words, in order to address the problem of oppression without reproducing the problem of exclusion, we need to stop focusing on the question of who should be considered autonomous and instead refocus on the question of what structural changes might promote the autonomy of all (Ch. 3). I call the resulting account an ‘agnostic and structural’ understanding of autonomy. I argue that such a conception of autonomy is promising as it offers an inclusive conception of self-government, which nonetheless gives us grounds to vindicate substantial emancipatory policies. I then present a set of case studies in order to show how such a conception of autonomy could help us deal with entrenched gender inequalities. Doing so enables me to illustrate the difference adopting an ‘agnostic and structural’ conception of autonomy could make in the areas of our legal system that are underpinned by an individualistic understanding of autonomy. Legal frameworks surrounding parental leave (Ch. 4), divorce and separation (Ch. 5), domestic violence (Ch. 6) and even our understanding of criminal responsibility (Ch. 7), I argue, could be effectively reframed using the kind of understanding of autonomy I propose.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Maud Faïle Gauthier-Chung
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Phillips, Anne and Valentini, Laura
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3665

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