This paper reviews shifts and trends in feminist legal theory since the 1980s and is based on a work in progress. By 1990, the field of feminist legal theory was well established but it also was undergoing numerous challenges. An appreciation of the complexity of women’s inequality and the intersecting nature of oppressions, along with the influence of poststructuralism, prompted the trend away from universalizing theories focused on gender and law or “the state”. Less publication space is now devoted to works exploring more abstract questions about feminist legal theory per se than was true in the 1980s and the 1990s, as grand theories about the sources of, and remedies for, women’s oppression were challenged, fragmented, and sometimes dismantled. That said, the insights of feminist legal theory continue to be relevant, even if less space is devoted to overarching questions such as the roots of inequality. Moreover, feminist legal thought often takes the form of praxis or “applied” theory because it uses theory to critically assess practical areas of activity or law reform. Even as feminists have subjected new fields of law to critical analysis, many topics of long standing interest to feminism continue to sustain interest. This retrospective offers examples from the author’s own work as well as the journal Social & Legal Studies and focuses on themes such as Strategic Engagement, Intersectionality, Women or Gender, and Choice and Constraint. Recent calls for a return to a focus on socialist or materialist feminism and the nature of the state are assessed.
Susan B. Boyd is Professor Emerita at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is also a Visiting Professorial Fellow with the Legal Intersections Research Centre at the University of Wollongong.
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