Inequality and Gender Violence: Reflections on VAWA’s 20th Anniversary

The year 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  That milestone presented an opportunity to critically reflect on current gender-violence policy, and to build on shared critiques to flesh out an alternative agenda.  In that spirit, two new resources offer inspiration for mobilization and advocacy.  First, the City University of New York (CUNY) Law Review’s Footnote Forum has published an online collection of 15 short essays “re-imagining” VAWA in service of progressive reform.  The essays are based in an intersectional understanding of the ways in which various forms of inequality create and sustain violence.  They draw on critiques grounded in the movement against mass criminalization and intrusive state intervention in the lives of poor people, as well as in work for immigrant rights, economic rights, LGBTQ equality, disability rights, racial justice, and human rights.  The multi-disciplinary essays can be found here:

Similarly, the conversation held at CUNY Law School on November 13, 2014, “VAWA@20:  Reflecting, Re-imagining & Looking Forward,” with Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sharon Stapel and Sujata Warrier, and moderated by Professor Julie Goldscheid, is now available on line for those who missed the event:

Announcement thanks to Donna Coker!

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Save the Date: 2015 ClassCrits Conference

We are very excited to announce that the University of Tennessee College of Law will host next year’s ClassCrits conference in Knoxville on Oct. 23-24, 2015, thanks to the leadership of UT Law Professors Lucy Jewel and Wendy Bach.   A call for papers will be issued later this winter, so stay tuned for more details and save the date for ClassCrits VIII.

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Register now for ClassCrits VII at UC Davis, Nov. 14 -15 2014 !

ClassCrits VII  Poverty, Precarity, & Work: Struggle & Solidarity in an Era of Permanent(?) Crisis

Friday, November 14 – Saturday, November 15, 2014

UC Davis School of Law
400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, California 95616

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty,” and the establishment of the first Neighborhood Legal Services Program pilot in Washington, D.C. Each of these initiatives attempted to address problems of structural economic inequality—problems that remain with us nationally and internationally . The seventh meeting of ClassCrits will focus on work, poverty, and resistance in an age of increasing economic insecurity.

Class Crits VIIIn law, it is generally easier to discuss “poverty” than to look deeply into its causes and incidents—including income and wealth inequality, the close interaction of class and race in America, and the connections between gender and economic hardship. It is also easier to discuss “poverty” than what some scholars call “precarity”—the increasing vulnerability of workers, even those above the official poverty line, to disaster. Precarity has both economic and political roots. Its economic sources include the casualization of labor, low wages, persistently high unemployment rates, inadequate social safety nets, and constant vulnerability to personal financial catastrophes. Its political sources include the success of neoliberal ideology, upward redistribution of wealth, increasing polarization and dysfunction in Congress, and the dependence of both political parties on a steady stream of big money. Precarity is also not limited to the United States, but is reshaping space around the globe. While the aftermath of the housing bubble and subsequent foreclosures drain home values across America and strip equity disproportionately from minority neighborhoods, in developing-country “megacities,” millions of slum-dwellers are displaced to make way for high-end residential and commercial real estate developments.

Finally, this conference focuses on challenging structural forms of inequality from a place of compassion and creating possibilities for resilience. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” In this spirit, ClassCrits VII will explore the risks, uncertainty, and structural challenges of this period and discuss possibilities for shared goals and new forms of resistance.

The conference schedule is here.  All are welcome to attend.

Participants are also invited to attend the Poverty and Place Conference, which overlaps with this conference, organized by the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.

Continue reading

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ClassCrits VII Call for Papers & Participation, Nov. 14-15, 2014 U.C. Davis

ClassCrits VII,  Poverty, Precarity, and Work: Struggle and Solidarity in an Era of Permanent(?) Crisis, Sponsored by U.C. Davis School of Law, Davis, CA,  November 14-15, 2014.   See below and top bar for more details on the theme, possible topics, and logistics.

We invite panel proposals and paper presentations that speak to this year’s theme as well as to general ClassCrits themes. In addition, we extend a special invitation to junior scholars (i.e., graduate students or any non-tenured faculty member) to submit proposals for works in progress. A senior scholar as well as other scholars will comment upon each work in progress in a small, supportive working session.

Please submit your proposal by email to by May 23, 2014. Proposals should includethe author’s name, institutional affiliation and contact information, the title of the paper to be presented, and an abstract of the paper to be presented of no more than 750 words. Junior scholar submissions for works in progress should be clearly marked as “JUNIOR SCHOLAR WORK IN PROGRESS PROPOSAL.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty,” and the establishment of the first Neighborhood Legal Services Program pilot in Washington, D.C. Each of these initiatives attempted to address problems of structural economic inequality—problems that remain with us nationally and internationally . The seventh meeting of ClassCrits will focus on work, poverty, and resistance in an age of increasing economic insecurity. Continue reading

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ClassCrits VII conference SAVE THE DATE Nov. 14-15 2014

The University of California Davis School of Law will host the ClassCrits VII Workshop on November 14-15, 2014.  A Call for Papers & Participation will be circulated in early March.  As in past years, the Workshop will also extend a special invitation to junior scholars (graduate students and non-tenured faculty members) to submit proposals for works in progress. 


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Call for Papers: Vulnerability, Resilience, and Public Responsibility for Social and Economic Justice

Vulnerability, Resilience, and Public Responsibility for Social and Economic Justice
June 13-14, 2014 in Buffalo, NY
A Vulnerability and the Human Condition Workshop at SUNY Buffalo Law School

Email proposals (abstracts of a few paragraphs are fine) as a Word or PDF document by February 24, 2014 to Yvana Mols,

Decisions will be made by March 7, 2014 and working paper drafts will be due May 19 so they can be duplicated and distributed prior to the Workshop.

The U.S. welfare state has long been the focus of competing understandings of human dependency and vulnerability. In a paradigm-shifting response to the 1930s economic crisis, the New Deal emphasized strong public responsibility for achieving economic growth, stability, and protection. From 1945 through 1975, the idea that the federal government has an obligation to protect farmers, families, business and labor against the risks of living and working in an industrial society gained ground. Politically liberal ideas pressed by vigorous social movements expanded the welfare state, gradually providing a degree of economic security for the poor and the middle class. During these years of economic growth, increased federal spending provided health, education, housing, social service, infrastructure, and other resources that enabled individuals, families and communities to “manage [their] common vulnerabilities” from cradle to grave. The paradigm shift remained incomplete, contested and often theoretically and practically unclear, particularly along race, class, and gender divides. Nonetheless, the expanded welfare state represented major steps away from the laissez-faire vision that blamed and punished victims of social and economic forces beyond individual control toward recognition of the need and value of public or collective responsibility for society generally and each of its members individually.

The second major economic crisis of the 20th century began in the mid-1970s and led to a U-turn in public policy. Interpreting the New Deal paradigm as hindering economic recovery, leaders imposed neoliberal policies that valorized a private market and “meritocracy” and called for smaller government and return to the laissez fare ideal in which individuals and families were seen as primarily responsible for securing their own well-being. Neoliberal policies include (1) retrenchment of social welfare programs, (2) tax cuts, especially for the wealthy and for corporations, (3) devolution of socioeconomic responsibilities away from the federal government to the states (though combined with increased international regulatory protection for capital interests and corporations), (4) privatization that shifts responsibility for the general welfare from the state to the private market, (5) and new legal and economic barriers to social movements and collective action resisting these policies. The resulting upward redistribution of resources and protections- both public and private-has been accompanied by sharply rising rates of poverty, unemployment, and inequality and dwindling support for housing, education, health, and other critical resources. However, the call for limited government has not precluded major expansions of governmental activity in two significant areas: providing benefits and protections for globally mobile corporations and capital interests and generating policies and practices that have led to mass incarceration. Both expansions have profoundly affected communities defined by race and poverty.

This workshop seeks to use the vulnerability lens to explore insights and create opportunities that might develop the concepts and vocabulary to allow us to confront foundational neoliberal assumptions and move to a paradigm that emphasizes the universality, constancy, and inevitability of human dependency and vulnerability. How can we frame arguments for the state and its institutions to provide true equality of access and opportunity so that everyone can gain the resilience necessary to manage life’s crises and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves over the life course?
Guiding Questions:
•    What are the contradictions and tensions that shape the welfare state?
•    How have these tensions materialized over time and what kind of struggles have they sparked?
•    How should we understand the state and its responsibilities toward society’s institutions and individuals?
•    What role should state control or regulation play in monitoring (and defining) “responsible” behavior in regard to social and economic well-being?
•    What is the relationship between economic and social justice and other forms of justice (civil, criminal, political, gender)?
•    How should we understand the relationship between the state, human beings, and inhuman subjects – such as corporations – and what responsibilities and rights should follow from these privatized collective economic entities?
•    How can we address neoliberal assumptions about the human condition, the role of the market and the role of the state?
•    How can we counter the demonization of the poor as “takers”; welfare queens; oversexed; lazy and dependent?
•    How can we unmask the privileges conferred by privatization and valorization of a “free market,” cast as essential for efficiency, productivity, and economic growth?
•    Is it possible to reconcile the concepts of vulnerability and dependency with ideas of liberty, choice and autonomy?
•    How effectively do current organized efforts at resistance address the failure of the neoliberal state to recognize and respond to dependency and vulnerability as fundamental components of the human conditions?

Vulnerability and Resilience Background Reading at:
Workshop Co-Organizers:  Martha Albertson Fineman, ; Mimi Abramovitz, ; Martha McCluskey,

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Fineman responds to the Porsche argument against maternity coverage

Lest you think free market economists give no thought to fairness — or have little compassion for underinsured Americans — Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw recently worried that purchasers of individual health insurance can no longer choose to forgo the luxury of health insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth (Is Community Rating Fair? Nov. 11, 2013). Emory University Law Professor Martha Fineman thoroughly takes apart his faulty assumptions in an essay in the Guardian, Dec. 1, 2013, excerpted below:

Having a child is nothing like deciding to buy a Porsche

..Republican outrage over the inclusion of mandatory maternity coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues. Greg Mankiw, ….wrote on his blog Random Observations for Students of Economics:

People who drive a new Porsche pay more for car insurance than those who drive an old Chevy. We consider that fair because which car you drive is a choice. Why isn’t having children viewed in the same way?
His use of this analogy reveals the simplistic mindset behind the “free market” criticism of ACA’s maternity care mandate.

First, while Mankiw concedes that the “goal is to spread the risk of childbirth among the larger community”, he conveniently fails to note that the maternity coverage mandate serves to eliminate price disparities between the insurance premiums for men and women prevalent before ACA. From a policy perspective, even if an individual woman can choose whether or not to have a baby, the prior system placed the costs for childbearing exclusively on women.
Second, … Cars are not equivalent to children. Children are human beings, a fact that distinguishes the choice to have a child from the whims of the auto enthusiast. ….

But, putting aside these vital points, let’s analyze Mankiw’s analogy on his own terms: is it unfair to treat a choice to have a child differently from any other consumer decision, specifically the preference for a Porsche? …. Republicans have made their preference on this type of policy question very clear: if you can afford a Porsche or to have a child, fine, but don’t expect the rest of us to chip in.
In considering the justness of this analogy, we might first ask whether parents should only be viewed as consumers of children. For the sake of an accurate analogy they should also be thought of as producers of children.

… The production costs for the producers of Porsches and other consumer goods are subsidized – heavily, through regulatory measures such as tariff and tax policy and lax labor laws disfavoring unions. It’s also done directly through incentives such as when communities bid for location of plants or lawmakers slash taxes and make infrastructure investments facilitating distribution of goods, or provide other services designed to entice businesses interested in lower production costs and higher corporate profits…..

Of course, society also subsidizes child production, but in doing so relies primarily on the concepts of the “private family” and “individual responsibility” in which public provision of benefits is not considered investment, but stigmatized as connoting dependency. Even public provision of education is under attack by fiscal conservatives and those who would privatize anything that could be turned into individual profit. The business of child rearing simply does not evoke the largesse afforded to the business of car (or many other forms of) manufacturing, and what subsidies currently exist are subject to constant scrutiny and cost-cutting measures….

One could analogize a different comparison between consumers of Porsches and consumers of the next generation. Reaping the benefits, but not sharing in the costs of the reproduction of society is the equivalent of the state and market institutions stealing lovingly created and skillfully constructed Porsches. At a minimum, the term “freeloaders” seems applicable here.

Mankiw’s simplistic resort to analogy to address serious and complex social issues obscures the substantially unfair ways parents and children are treated in our society. A cavalier “let them drive Porsches” response to the needs of parents trying to raise children in a country with growing poverty, increasing food insecurity, failing public schools, diminished opportunity and access should make us angry.
Children deserve our investment in terms of both money and effort. This is an obligation we collectively owe, not only to our own children, but to all children. The growth in inequality that has resulted from our losing sight of this fundamental principle of social justice profoundly undermines the future possibilities for our nation’s children and, therefore, the future of the nation itself.”

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