My essay on Rethinking The Body featured as a discussion article based on the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour discussion. You can read the article here.
My radio essay “Rethinking The Body” was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Wednesday 24th June.
From the Woman’s Hour website:
Rethink is a series of essays and discussions across BBC Radio 4, 5 Live and the World Service that looks at how the world might change after the coronavirus pandemic. Today’s essay features the political philosopher Clare Chambers who considers how our relationship with our bodies, and our appearance has been affected by the lockdown. To discuss Jenni is joined by Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project, Kate Lister, Lecturer in the School of Arts and Communication at Leeds Trinity University, and Shahidha Bari, Professor of Fashion Cultures and Histories at the London College of Fashion.
You can listen to the essay and discussion here.
I have recorded an essay on how we think about our bodies for Rethink – a BBC radio series that considers how the world should change after the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to the programme and see the others in the series here.
Clare Chambers, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017)
Winner of the APSA David Easton Award 2018.
Available now in paperback and hardback from all good bookshops! Use the code AAFLYG6 at www.oup.com to buy the book at 30% off.
Read the book on Oxford Scholarship Online here.
Against Marriage is a radical argument for the abolition of state-recognised marriage. Clare Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage violates both equality and liberty, even when expanded to include same-sex couples. Instead Chambers proposes the marriage-free state: an egalitarian state in which religious or secular marriages are permitted but have no legal status.
Part I makes the case against marriage. Chambers investigates the critique of marriage that has developed within feminist and liberal theory. Feminists have long argued that marriage is a violation of equality since it is both sexist and heterosexist. Chambers endorses the feminist view and argues, in contrast to recent egalitarian pro-marriage movements, that same-sex marriage is not enough to make marriage equal. Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage is also problematic for liberalism, particularly political liberalism, since it imposes a controversial, hierarchical conception of the family that excludes many adults and children.
Part II sets out the case for the marriage-free state. Chambers critically assesses recent theories that attempt to make marriage egalitarian, either by replacing it with relationship contracts or by replacing it with alternative statuses such as civil union. She then sets out a new model for the legal regulation of personal relationships. In the marriage-free state regulation is based on relationship practices not relationship status, and these practices are regulated separately rather than as a bundle. The marriage-free state thus employs piecemeal, practice-based regulation. Finally, Chambers considers how the marriage-free state should respond to unequal religious marriage. The result is an inspiring egalitarian approach that fits the diversity of real relationships.
“Clare Chambers has produced what will surely be for years to come the definitive argument for the abolitionist view of marriage. … [T]his is in my opinion a superb book. It is prodigiously scholarly, but at the same time wonderfully clear and accessible. The arguments are provocative and challenging throughout. The literature on this vitally important topic urgently needed a book-length defense of the abolitionist position. It is hard to imagine a book performing this necessary role better than Chambers’s Against Marriage.”
Ralph Wedgwood in Ethics
Against Marriage is “political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”
Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, in Fabian Review
“This is a distinct and important contribution to an increasingly crowded field of liberal political philosophy on marriage and the state and, perhaps most interestingly, to our understanding of the liberal project broadly. … Where other liberals seek more vigorously to balance competing demands of freedom and equality, or emphasize freedom, Chambers hews rigorously to an egalitarian position. You won’t find another book that does this so effectively or by way of such productive engagement with existing scholarship. Laying out the egalitarian case in such clear and compelling terms, Chambers highlights the challenges it presents to the liberal side of her liberal feminist equation. In so doing, Against Marriage leaves us wondering just how tenable the liberal feminist project is. … Chambers leads us to these questions by bringing us to the edge of the liberal feminist frontier. This alone would make Against Marriage a distinct and important contribution. But, of course, Chambers does more. She offers a compelling vision of why and how to move beyond marriage and points us in the direction of work that needs to be done. All with the grace and graciousness of an analytical philosopher running at full throttle.”
Tamara Metz in Political Theory
“Against Marriage makes an important contribution to the debate over the future of marriage within liberalism. It is clear and cogently argued and a pleasure to read. One of its virtues is its breadth; it makes arguments which address a range of liberal and feminist views and should be accessible to non-specialists. At the same time, it advances the leading edge of the specialist debate in provocative and intriguing ways.”
Elizabeth Brake in Mind
“Clare Chambers provides a clear, lucid and timely argument against state-recognized marriage based on the liberal principles of liberty and equality. … Throughout, she is masterful at anticipating and responding carefully to potential objections to her arguments and proposals. …. And her responses to those who might disagree with her proposals reveal a two-fold carefulness: as a philosopher, she is thoughtful, deliberate, precise, and meticulous; as a feminist, she is attentive, concerned, and compassionate — considering not only the philosophical justifications for her proposals but also their practical fall out for women and other vulnerable populations. … I highly recommend Chambers’ book as an important scholarly and pedagogical resource. It is beautifully crafted and makes an important contribution to the literature in liberal political theory and, more specifically, to the philosophical literature on marriage and family. … It was my distinct pleasure to read this book and be provoked by its arguments into a better understanding of both liberalism’s promise and its limitations with regard to its support of diverse forms of relationship.”
Shelley M. Park in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
“Chambers’ Against Marriage is a wonderful addition to a growing literature demanding that we think seriously about the institution of marriage and how it may have to be altered to meet the demands of justice and equity.”
Robert Scott Stewart in Metapsychology Online Reviews
“My thought is this: a significant aspect of beauty practices is comfort and visibility. Comfort relates to discipline: discipline makes some actions and inactions seem comfortable and others effortful. Visibility relates to surveillance: some beauty practices make us seem visible or hyper-visible, others make us feel invisible. Sometimes beauty practices aim at making the practitioner visible: she wants her appearance to be noticeable. But beauty practices can also aim at invisibility: at making a person blend in rather than stand out. Both make up and its absence can have this effect, depending on the person and context involved.”
This short piece is published on the Beauty Demands blog. You can read it here.
Timandra Harkness interviewed me for the BBC Radio 4 series “How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to Having Better Arguments”, episode 4. The topic of the discussion is moral disagreement, with particular reference to the topic of abortion.
The episode was broadcast on 16 August 2018 and you can listen to it here.
Against Marriage features in the Oxford University Press Women in Philosophy reading list.
“This March, in recognition of Women’s History Month, the OUP Philosophy team will be celebrating Women in Philosophy. The philosophy discipline has long been perceived as male-dominated, so we want to recognize some of the incredible female philosophers from the past including Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Hannah Arendt, plus female philosophers doing great things in 2018 like Martha Nussbaum, Clare Chambers, and Kate Manne.”
You can see the whole reading list here.
I have a chapter on feminism and liberalism in The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy, edited by Ann Garry, Serene J. Khader, and Alison Stone (Routledge, 2017). The volume has been reviewed by Amy Marvin in Hypatia Reviews Online. You can read the full review here.
“The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy presents an exciting, comprehensive, and original pluralist presentation of feminist philosophy that is a much-needed update to existing feminist philosophy companions. Students, scholars, independent researchers, and departments interested in feminism and philosophy would do well to make sure they have access to this volume, and it should be a relevant resource for years to come.”
Rose Hackman quotes me in a long-form piece on marriage in The Guardian. You can read the whole article here.
” “Married men gained rights over women’s bodies, property and children,” confirms Clare Chambers, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Cambridge who wrote a book arguing for an end to state-recognized marriage. “Traditionally [marriage] has maintained legal gender inequality, and it has done so to the benefit of men.”
“Chambers concedes that many formal inequalities tied to marriage have been denounced and revoked. Marital rape was outlawed in the UK in 1991 and in the US in 1993 – hard to believe there was ever an exemption – and same-sex marriage was legalized in 2014 and 2015 respectively.”
Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, reviewed Against Marriage in Fabian Review, May 2018. You can read the full review here.
“Marriage makes me uncomfortable, whether the reason is political, historical, cultural or aesthetic. No matter how many married couples I see living modern equal relationships, for me, the whole concept is tainted by its patriarchal past. But I say ‘for me’ with good reason, as I have dozens of friends and comrades who disagree. This is a fault-line issue that divides socialists and feminists amongst themselves. In Against Marriage, Clare Chambers makes the case for why egalitarians and liberals should reject marriage. It is political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”
I was interviewed by Valentina Saini for her piece “È L’ALBA DI UN’INTERNAZIONALE FEMMINISTA?” on the Italian news site Gli Stati Generali. You can read the piece, in Italian, here.
For those who don’t speak Italian I don’t have a translation of the full article, but here are the answers I gave to Valentina Saini’s questions.
VS: In many countries and regions of the world, sexual harassment in the form of a “pat” on a woman’s “butt”, for example, is seen as something innocent and harmless, nothing one should be especially offended by – many women think so too. Why is that? Is women’s body still something that does not belong exclusively to them – culturally speaking?
A (CC): Women and girls are taught from an early age that one of their most important roles is to be attractive, pleasing, submissive and helpful to others. This education comes from many sources: gendered differences in early upbringing, acceptable social roles for men and women, media portrayals of women that focus on their looks, role-models and stereotypes. It is not surprising in this context of gender inequality that some women internalise the role given to them, and think of their bodies as primarily existing to be appraised and used by others. That doesn’t make it acceptable.
This paper investigates the possibility of what Sally Haslanger calls ‘ideology critique’. It argues that ideology critique cannot rely on epistemological considerations alone but must be based on a normative political theory. Since ideological oppression is denied by those who suffer from it is it is not possible to identify privileged epistemological standpoints in advance.
This paper investigates the possibility of what Sally Haslanger calls “ideology critique.” It argues that ideology critique cannot rely on epistemological considerations alone but must be based on a normative political theory. Since ideological oppression is denied by those who suffer from it is it is not possible to identify privileged epistemological standpoints in advance.
Feminist Political Quarterly (Vol. 3 No. 2, 2017).
The title of this paper is “Judging Women”, a phrase that can be understood in three senses. First, when is it acceptable or necessary to make judgements about what women do? Feminists may be wary of subjecting women’s choices and actions to criticism, but the paper argues that such criticism is implied by a feminist perspective on patriarchy, a perspective which is necessarily critical. Second, when can women engage in the act of judging? The paper argues that being judgmental is popularly considered a vice, but only when done by women. Feminism should insist on women’s right to judge. Third, how are we to judge who counts as a woman? The paper investigates the commonalities and contrasts between feminism and trans issues, and discusses the concepts of essentialism and transphobia. The focus throughout is on MacKinnon’s work, which offers profound, sustained, rich analysis of these questions but does not fully resolve them.
You can read the paper here.
For some feminists liberalism is little more than patriarchy in disguise; for others, it is the framework for securing justice. Feminism, like all other positions in political philosophy, is a range of views rather than a single determinate viewpoint. One aspect of this range is that feminism includes both academics and activists, for whom the term ‘liberalism’ can signify rather different things; after all, liberalism is not one single thing either.
In this chapter I start by considering feminist criticisms of liberalism. I discuss two aspects of feminist critique: first, academic feminist critiques of non-feminist liberal philosophy; second, activist feminist critiques of what is variously called “choice feminism”, “third-wave feminism”, or simply “liberal feminism”.
I then move to those feminists who endorse liberalism and argue that a suitably modified liberalism offers the best path to gender equality. This position, “feminist liberalism,” is mostly found in contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy. Feminist liberals understand liberalism as a commitment to substantive, demanding principles of justice based on freedom and equality. Included in this section are those feminist approaches that combine radical feminism’s insights about the limitations of individual choice with feminist liberalism’s commitment to autonomy, equality, and justice.
See more about the book here.
In The Oxford Handbook of Classics in Contemporary Political Theory, edited by Jacob T. Levy (OUP, forthcoming).
This chapter provides a critical introduction to Judith Butler’s classic work Gender Trouble, including an analysis of the impact it has made on political theory.
The chapter is online first and you can read it here.
I responded to a paper by Nancy Bauer at this conference in Birkbeck in June 2015, organised by Prof Susan James. Details here.
I was delighted to be a representative of contemporary political philosophy, talking about Feminism in Philosophy, in this year’s Balzan-Skinner conference in the History of Political Thought. Find details here. The conference is on 22 May 2015.
I spoke at the WOW – Women of the World – Festival in Cambridge in March 2015, on a panel on Women’s Bodies, Private Places.
Women’s bodies, who do they belong to? A wide- ranging, multi-generational and diverse panel will explore issues around life as a woman. From boobs and body hair to body image and periods, how have attitudes changed and who decides what’s ‘right’? In conversation will be Dr Clare Chambers, author of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ Susie Orbach, Roz Hardie, CEO of campaign group Object, Debra Bourne from All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, poet, singer, writer and actor Keisha Thompson, Alice Wroe from the Herstory project, trans woman Dr Rachael Padman and Becky Talbot from Dhiverse.
See the programme here.
An interview with me, focusing on my work in Sex, Culture, and Justice. Read the interview here.
Clare Chambers chews over the core philosophical issues of sex, culture and justice for liberal feminists, brooding on practices of physical modification, social construction’s role in negotiating claims of universalism and tolerance, Foucault and the panopticon, Bourdieu and habitus, Mackinnon’s critique of liberal feminism, taking violence against women seriously, Benhabib’s discourse ethics, how not to be a relativist, of what kind of universality is worth defending and of the state of academic philosophy and feminism. This is a voice from a war zone. Listen up!
Proceedings of The Aristotelian Society (2013). This paper sets out the case for abolishing state-recognised marriage and replacing it with piecemeal regulation of personal relationships. It starts by analysing feminist objections to traditional marriage, and argues that the various feminist critiques can best be reconciled and answered by the abolition of state-recognised marriage. The paper then considers the ideal form of state regulation of personal relationships. Contra other recent proposals equality and liberty are not best served by the creation of a new holistic status, such as civil union, or by leaving regulation to private contracts. Instead, the state should develop piecemeal regulations that apply universally. You can read the paper and listen to the podcast here or on the OUP Philosophy Festival Reading List here.
The Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference was held at the Centre for the Study of Social Justice (CSSJ), University of Oxford, in 2006. You can hear the podcasts of the day here, with thanks to the CSSJ for allowing them to be posted.
Michael Moorcock, “Andrea Dworkin’s fiction”
Julie Bindel, “Myths about Andrea Dworkin”
John Stoltenberg, “What Andrea knew about her work”
Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Going Her Own Way”
I made a live appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, discussing ideas from Sex, Culture, and Justice in the context of a debate on cosmetic surgery and the concept of ‘normal’, on 31st July 2012. You can listen to the debate right here via the sound file below. The segment begins at 33m, I am on at 37m.
Edited excerpt from Sex, Culture, and Justice published by UK Feminista as their first Thinkpiece on “Cosmetic Surgery, Culture, and Choice”. Find it here.
In Section 50 of Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, titled “The Family as a Basic Institution”, John Rawls replies to Susan Moller Okin’s feminist critique of A Theory of Justice. The question of how Rawlsian justice might secure gender equality has been discussed by many feminists, most notably by Okin. However, as I argue in this chapter, the Rawls-Okin debate raises more questions than it answers. Okin criticises Rawls for failing to apply his theory adequately to the family: she criticises not Rawls’s approach in general, but his attitude to the family in particular. Okin argues that a consistent application of Rawlsian theory would secure gender justice, but that Rawls is remiss in refusing such consistency. In fact, as I show, Rawls’s remarks on the family reveal a more fundamental problem with Rawlsian theory than Okin allows. It is not that Rawls fails to apply his theory correctly to the family, but rather that the specific case of the family illustrates deep-seated difficulties with Rawlsian justice as a whole.
The problem, to give an outline, is that Rawls’s ambiguous remarks on the family are comprehensible only at the expense of his fundamental claim that there is something distinctive about the application of justice to the basic structure. Okin criticises Rawls for failing to make good on the fact that the family is part of the basic structure. If he did make good, Okin claims, he would see that the principles of justice must apply to the family in a much more extensive way than he actually allows. As I show, however, the family is one illustration of the fact that how the principles of justice apply to an institution does not depend on whether that institution is part of the basic structure. This is a problem for Rawls because the distinctiveness of the basic structure is a crucial part of the political liberalism which, by the end of his work, has become essential to the Rawlsian project.
In this chapter I first outline Okin’s critique of Rawls in more detail, and provide a valid formalisation of her argument against Rawls. I then examine the main premises of her argument and look for evidence to support Okin’s interpretation of Rawls. I conclude that Okin’s interpretation is flawed but nonetheless highlights problems with Rawls’s claim that the basic structure is the subject of justice. I then consider and reject the argument that Rawls’s theory is consistent according to what I call the “whole structure view”: that the principles of justice apply to the basic structure considered as a whole. Finally, I consider G.A. Cohen’s argument that the basic structure distinction is problematic. I agree with Cohen’s criticism of the distinction, but suggest that Cohen is wrong in situating the problem with the issue of coercion. I conclude that Rawls’s position on justice in the family is at odds with his claim that the basic structure is uniquely the subject of justice.
You can see more about the book here.
This chapter sets out the state of contemporary feminism, including considering the sense in which it is and is not an ideology. It argues that contemporary feminism must argue against two patriarchal claims: The Prison of Biology and The Fetishism of Choice. In their place, feminism argues for three theses: The Entrenchment of Gender, The Existence of Patriarchy, and The Need for Change.
You can read the chapter here.