Thinking Past Rights: Towards Feminist Theories of Reparations
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The notion of reparations encompasses debates about the relationship between individual and society, the nature of political community, the meaning of justice, and the impact of rights in social change. In international law, the dominant approach to reparations is based on individual rights. This normative framework is out of step with the understanding of reparations that circulates among many women activists. This paper develops a theoretical approach to justice and reparations that helps to explain the gap between the international normative framework and activist discourses. Based on distributive, communitarian, and critical theories of justice, I argue that reparations can be thought of as rights, symbols, or processes. Approaching reparations as either rights or symbols is rife with problems when approached from an activist and feminist theoretical standpoint. As decisions about reparations programs are and should be determined by the political, social, economic, and cultural context, a blueprint for ‘a feminist reparations program’ is impractical and ill-advised. However, the strongest feminist approach to reparations would depart from an understanding of reparations as a process.
At the time of publication, Genevieve Renard Painter was at the University of California-Berkeley.
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