A Relational Approach to Law and Its Core Concepts

Author ORCID Identifier

Jennifer Nedelsky: 0000-0001-9828-3085

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Brake, Deborah, Martha Chamallas, and Verna Williams (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the United States (2023; online edn, Oxford Academic, 9 June 2021)


feminism; autonomy; rights; self; values; property; inequality; relationship; law; agency


This introduction to relational feminism builds on Nedelsky’s approach in which relationships are central to all human beings, not just to women. A relational approach to law provides both a clearer analysis of what is at stake in disputes over law and policy and a framework for assessing proposals for change. The basic claims are that relationships make possible the lived reality of values like security or autonomy, and law is one of the primary means of shaping relationships. Relational feminism reconceptualizes core concepts, like autonomy; links them to underlying conceptions of the self; and explains their role in law. The examples show the benefit of a relational approach to self, autonomy, and rights (and law more broadly). From questions of hierarchy and racism to environmental harm to mental health and a reconceptualization of property, the chapter works through the application of a relational approach.

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