University of Oulu

Cooke, T. (2017). Seeing Past the Liberal Legal Subject. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 42(3), 23-40. Retrieved from

Seeing past the liberal legal subject : cultural defence, agency and women

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Author: Cooke, Taina1
Organizations: 1Cultural Anthropology, University of Oulu
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Suomen antropologinen seura, 2017
Publish Date: 2018-05-16


The idea of liberal subjectivity prevalent in Western legal traditions assumes a highly autonomous and context-free agent. This assumption of categorical individual agency, I argue, is also in the background of debates on female vulnerability/autonomy relating to multiculturalism, feminism and more precisely, to cultural defence. The notion of agency appears dichotomous when it is discussed in relation to women and culture: the two roles available for women in these discussions are those of either victims or agents. By introducing a case from a Finnish District Court, I will challenge this simplified view of female vulnerability/autonomy and look for a more nuanced way of understanding a legal subject’s agency. In this endeavour, I will build on Martha Fineman’s thoughts on the vulnerable subject on one hand, and Ilana Gershon’s notions on the usefulness of so-called anthropological imagination in studying human agency, on the other.

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Series: Suomen antropologi. Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society
ISSN: 0355-3930
ISSN-E: 1799-8972
ISSN-L: 0355-3930
Volume: 42
Issue: 3
Pages: 23 - 40
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 520 Other social sciences
Copyright information: © 2017 Taina Cooke and Suomen Antropologi. Copyright for texts published in Suomen Antropologi is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, texts are free to use, with proper attribution and link to the licensing, in educational, commercial, and non-commercial settings.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.