Symposium Honoring Martha Nussbaum

Posted on February 16th, 2009 by jeannie.chung

martha-nussbaum-photoOn Friday, the Gender and Sexuality Law Program held its inaugural symposium, this year honoring  the work of Professor Martha Nussbaum.  Nine scholars submitted papers providing insights on  Professor Nussbaum’s scholarship, points of departure for her theories, and novel applications of her  theories to many different contexts.  Dean Schizer introduced Professor Nussbaum before her keynote  speech at the end of the day, and Professor Nussbaum gave a summary of her scholarship and ideas, and thoughtfully responded to each paper.

The diversity and creativity of scholarship and thought that came out of the symposium was really remarkable.  We covered everything from Nussbaum’s capabilities approach as applied to women’s movements (Amrita Basu), the possibility of a collective capabilities approach to women’s empowerment in Africa (Aili Tripp), and the relationship of the state to the capabilities approach (Tracy Higgins), to the application of Nussbaum’s work to the same-sex marriage debate, the LGBT community, and its relationship with science (Nancy Levit), and whether the state should be in the business of regulating marriage in the first place (Janet Jakobsen).  Nussbaum’s capabilities approach was applied to global economic systems (Saskia Sassen) and stretched from its universality to its flexibility in encouraging people of opposite viewpoints to sympathize with one another (Carlos Ball).  We learned of a historian’s perspective on Nussbaum’s reliance on the history of relationships to support her arguments about same-sex marriage (Alice Kessler-Harris), and tough questions were asked of how far the law should go in the forcing of certain types of relationships, and what emotions, aside from disgust and shame – and anger for that matter – might be appropriate for opponents of same-sex marriage (Mary Anne Case).  I fully admit, that’s not nearly the half of it; you can read all the papers in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law‘s forthcoming publication of them.

On a personal note: law school does not all too often provide the opportunity to stop learning about the law per se and actually examine its parameters and characteristics.  That the emotions of shame and disgust might problematically inform how the law is shaped, or the notion that all human beings are entitled to a range of fundamental capabilities, are concepts that add a huge depth to legal study.  This conference was a great moment to pause and consider, and I hope everyone at the end of the day felt similarly enriched.


Jeannie Chung

Jeannie Chung


Jeannie Chung is a second-year law student and research assistant for the Gender and Sexuality Law Program.

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