Martha Fineman delivers inaugural lecture for Centre for Law and Social Justice

Over one hundred scholars came to Leeds to hear Professor Fineman discuss her recent work concerning the use of vulnerability as a means to understand societal inequalities.

On 16 September, Professor Martha Albertson Fineman, who holds the Robert W. Woodruff Professorship at Emory University in Atlanta, presented the inaugural annual public lecture for the recently established Centre for Law and Social Justice.

As part of her long-anticipated visit to the law school, over one hundred scholars came to Leeds to hear Professor Fineman discuss her recent work concerning the use of vulnerability as a means to understand societal inequalities. The lecture began with a warm welcome from Professor Michael Thomson, co-director of the Centre, who introduced Professor Fineman’s extensive work in the field of vulnerability and the invaluable contributions that her research has made to members of the law school and beyond.

During the lecture, Professor Fineman considered the interaction between vulnerability and social justice, in the current international context of austerity and politicised individualism. In response to this climate, Professor Fineman called for academics to utilise vulnerability theory, as a means to call for a state that is responsive to the disparities of resilience amongst structurally unequal populations. Part of this task involves focusing research on the vulnerability of societal institutions themselves, so as to sufficiently tackle the foundations of structural inequity as well as identifying the effects for individuals.

At the end of the lecture, Professor Fineman was able to clarify aspects of her theory by responding to questions from the audience that prompted further discussions, which continued well into the evening. The lecture culminated in a drinks reception, which took place in the school’s atrium. This allowed many attendees to discuss their particular applications and understandings of vulnerability, and network with various other scholars who make use of Professor Fineman’s theory.

Professor Michael Thomson reflected on the evening by saying: “Martha delivered an extraordinarily rich lecture as the centre piece of her week long visit to the school. In challenging the Centre for Law & Social Justice to interrogate the 'social' in social justice, she provided the Centre with an excellent inaugural annual lecture. Starting with what social justice could and indeed should mean she moved on to demonstrate the relevance of vulnerability theory for our work, as well as work undertaken elsewhere in the School. The lecture was a compelling introduction to her vulnerability theory and its evolving dimensions. It was great to welcome so many friends and colleagues from across the University and further a field to this important event.”

Professor Fineman herself described the valuable experience and perspectives she has gained from networking and conversing with our academics and research students. She was particularly enthused to hear about the work of the Centre, and the applications of her work in the pursuit of social justice. In turn, the opportunity to engage with Professor Fineman about her work has left both doctoral students and academic members of the Centre even further enthused about current and future research projects and collaborations.

By Jessica Mant, Research Student - LASPO, Families and Structural Vulnerability.