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School of Law
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Phone number: +44 (0)1865 484923
Location: Headington Hill Hall, H2.04
Ellen joined Oxford Brookes in December 2018 as a Senior Lecturer in Law, having previously taught at Canterbury Christ Church University and City University London. Ellen has recently completed a PhD at the University of Birmingham, entitled 'Relational Vulnerability: Law, Myths, and Homemaking Contributions in Cohabiting Relationships'. She has a first-class LLM from Queens' College, Cambridge and a first-class LLB from the University of Leeds. Ellen is a non-practising solicitor, having specialised in all areas of family law during her time in practice. She is currently an academic member of the Law Society's Family Law Committee, whose role is to to keep under review, and to promote improvements in, family law, practice and procedure.
U22192 Family Law
U22187 Equity and Trusts
U22140 Land Law
This book breaks new theoretical ground by constructing a framework of ‘relational vulnerability’ through which it analyses the disadvantaged position of those who undertake unpaid caregiving, or ‘dependency-work’, in the context of the private family. Expanding on existing socio-legal scholarship on vulnerability and resilience, it charts how the state seeks to conceal the embodied and temporal reality of vulnerability and dependency within the private family, while promoting an artificial concept of autonomous personhood that exposes dependency-workers work to a range of harms. The book argues that the legal framework governing the married and unmarried family reinforces principles of individualism and rationality, while labelling dependency-work as a private, gendered, and sentimental endeavor, lacking value beyond the family. It also considers how the state can respond to relational vulnerability and foster resilience. It seeks to provide a more comprehensive understanding of resilience, theorising its normative goals and applying these to different hypothetical state responses. -- Supplied by publisher.
The restrained state has always sought to devalue socially reproductive work, often consigning it to the private family unit, where it is viewed as a natural part of female relational roles. This marginalisation of social reproduction adversely affects those performing it and reduces their resilience to vulnerability. The pandemic has largely shattered the liberal illusions of autonomous personhood and state restraint. The reality of our universal embodied vulnerability has now become impossible to ignore, and society’s reliance on socially reproductive work has therefore been pushed into public view. However, the pandemic has also exacerbated harms and pressures for those performing paid and unpaid social reproduction, creating a crisis that demands an urgent state response. As it is argued in this paper, the UK response to date has been inadequate, illustrating an unwillingness to abandon familiar principles of liberal individualism. However, the pandemic has also created a climate of exceptionalism, which has prompted even the most neoliberal of states to consider measures that in the past would have been dismissed. In this paper, it is imagined how the state can use this opportunity to become more responsive and improve the resilience of social reproduction workers, both inside and outside the home.
This article takes a novel approach by applying a theoretical framework of temporality to the law governing financial obligations on divorce. Although under-explored, particularly in family law, time and temporality are powerful tools of legal governance that reinforce norms and expectations of behaviour. The article explores family law’s increasing preoccupation with principles of individual autonomy, as demonstrated through the recognition of prenuptial agreements and the expectation of financial self-sufficiency post-divorce. It argues that law’s expectations of autonomy are reflected through temporal mechanisms, promoting liberal ideals of linear progress and modernity. The prenup and the clean break are based on an imagined legal subject who can seamlessly move on from the divorce towards an ‘open future’ that is unconstrained by obligations from the marriage. However, as the article argues, family law’s imagined linear temporality conflicts with the temporal experiences of caregivers. Although the certainty promised by the prenup and the clean break is lauded as a universal good, caregivers face considerable temporal barriers to self-righting post-divorce. Problematically, neoliberal rhetoric paints longer-term financial hardship as a personal failure rather than a societal problem, frequently depicting the caregiver as someone stuck in the past and preventing the former spouse from moving forwards.
In this article, I examine the legal position of those who perform caregiving work within the context of a cohabiting relationship through a novel relational vulnerability lens. I argue that the state, through privatising and devaluing caregiving labour, situates carers within an unequal and imbalanced relational framework, exposing them economic, emotional, and spatial harms. Unlike universal vulnerability, which is inherent and unavoidable, relational vulnerability can be avoided and reduced if the state were to acknowledge that humans are embodied and relational rather than self-sufficient and rational. Law’s treatment of cohabiting carers reflects the state’s broader tendency to value economic self-sufficiency, while confining caregiving to the private family. I argue that the state has a duty to respond directly to relational vulnerability and should aim to make cohabiting carers resilient. Resilience must involve the provision of material resources but should also have a normative commitment to achieving autonomy and equality for those marginalised by law and state policies.
Women’s domestic work is largely deemed to be a ‘labour of love’ and lacking any value outside the private family. This reflects an ‘ideology of domesticity’, whereby women’s natural place is deemed to be in an imagined private sphere. In this article, I examine the status of housework in the context of asserting property rights in the home upon relationship-breakdown. Using Valverde’s legal chronotope as a lens, I argue that the ideology of domesticity is not merely present in legal discourse, but also takes on material form through the spatiotemporal ordering of the home. Housework is spatially and temporally concealed behind the powerful veneer of the imagined ideal family home, with corresponding invisibility in the law. For domestic work to be acknowledged, the individual often has to demonstrate that her work transgresses boundaries between private and public. However, as I argue, this transgression is particularly difficult for women, who remain spatiotemporally anchored in the home.
This article argues that the legal regime applicable to cohabitants on separation is based on liberal ideals of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency. This can be seen chiefly in the preference for financial contributions in order to establish a constructive trust. The preference for financial contributions marginalises and stigmatises those who make 'caring contributions' within an intimate relationship and are thus unable to conform to the ideal, economically independent legal subject. The article proposes that property disputes between former intimate partners should instead be analysed through the lens of vulnerability theory. It argues that so-called 'relational vulnerability' occurs where an individual undertakes caring or domestic labour within the context of an intimate relationship, and suffers economic hardship as a result. The state has a duty to respond to this vulnerability through distribution of property on separation. The article further suggests that vulnerability theory provides a preferable basis for analysing disputes to liberal theory, as it avoids the tendency to rely on concepts such as altruism and needs when explaining caring contributions and the law's response to them.
Chapter 15 is on Martha Albertson Fineman’s article ‘The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition’. In this chapter, Ellen Gordon-Bouvier explores the nature of Fineman’s theory of universal vulnerability, its significance for law and social justice scholarship. Fineman’s vulnerability theory has had enormous influence among law and social justice scholars over the past decade, with numerous symposiums and conference streams being dedicated to the consideration of different aspects of vulnerability, many of these organised by the ‘Vulnerability and the Human Condition’ initiative based at Fineman’s home institution, Emory University, Georgia, US. This chapter explores the nature of Fineman’s theory of universal vulnerability, its significance for law and social justice scholarship, as well as detailing how other scholars have developed parts of the theory in different directions. The chapter draws not only on Fineman’s 2008 article, but also charts how she has developed and refined vulnerability theory through subsequent works.
Blog post published on the Socio-Legal Studies Association Blog April 2018
This blogpost is based on a paper presented in the Family Law and Policy stream at the SLSA 2018 conference. In it, I argued that new insights and understandings could be gleaned from examining the law’s harsh treatment of cohabiting homemakers through the lens of relational vulnerability theory. This, I argued, would show two things; that homemaker disadvantage should be understood as a state-created rather than private problem, and that relationship generated disadvantages are far broader than merely economic.