News Release: Law, People, Student Life, Teaching, University News

May 19,  2009

Fineman a Pioneer for Social Equality

News Article ImageMartha Fineman (left) receives the University Scholar/Teacher Award from President James Wagner.

One of the world’s leading feminist theorists and family-law scholars, Martha Fineman has encouraged colleagues, lawmakers and students to challenge the status quo.

“In my academic career I have found pulling stock perceptions, concepts and arguments apart, and then putting them back together in novel and interesting ways, to be among the most rewarding intellectual exercises,” Fineman said.

The Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law was chosen to receive the University Scholar/Teacher Award by Emory faculty on behalf of the United Methodist Church Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the fourth law faculty member to receive this honor.

Fineman has published more than 60 scholarly texts. Forthcoming is “The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition.” In her writings, Fineman explores issues such as the nature and function of the family as a societal institution, the economic and political consequences of welfare and divorce reforms, and the meanings of dependency in American society and politics.

“The growing inequality in America over the past decade has convinced me that there is a pressing need for us to develop a more substantive approach to issues of equality,” she said, “one that is attentive to the differing contexts in which individuals find themselves,” such as inequalities in income, education and wealth.

An important component of Fineman’s scholarly work is the Feminism and Legal Theory (FLT) Project, which she founded in 1984 at the University of Wisconsin. The core purpose of FLT is to foster interdisciplinary examinations of laws, social policies and structures that are of particular interest to women. Her research, scholarship and activism have helped to define the field of feminist legal theory and family and marriage law.

A dedicated teacher and mentor, Fineman also carries forward the themes and methods developed in her research and the FLT Project.

“I consider my teaching successful if I can get my students to raise questions they haven’t asked before, or to question assumptions that they have previously left unexamined,” said Fineman. “I try to present the same type of challenge to the readers of my books and articles — always asking them to consider the why and how of the legal, social and cultural arrangements in which we all are enmeshed, as well as understanding how the world might be seen and understood differently.”

Fineman’s exemplary scholarship and teaching have earned her national recognition, such as the Harry Kalven Prize for Distinguished Research in Law and Society.

Fineman joined Emory Law in 2004 from Cornell Law School, where she held the first endowed chair in feminist jurisprudence in the United States.

Her advice for the Class of 2009? “Never take anything, or anyone, for granted, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions, particularly of yourself.”

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