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Law and the Relational Self

Book Symposium on Jonathan Herring's Law and the Relational Self (CUP 2019)

(The book is available as an e-book in the UCD library.)

3-4 June 2022, in person, in the UCD Sutherland Law building room L143.

No registration fee, but please contact christopher.cowley@ucd.ie if you would like to attend.

     The book’s author is:

Jonathan Herring is Professor of Law at the University of Oxford.


Venue: Room L143 (the William Fry Lecture Theatre), Sutherland Law School, University College Dublin.

Friday 3 June

  • 13.30 Welcome (please note that lunch will not be served)
  • 14.00-15.00 Jo Bridgeman, University of Sussex
  • 15.15-16.15 David Prendergast, Trinity College Dublin
  • 16.15-16.45 tea & coffee
  • 16.45-17.45 Ronah McQuigg, Queen's University Belfast

Saturday 4 June

  • 09.00 arrival
  • 09.15-10.15 Steve Hedley, University College Cork
  • 10.30-11.30 Ellen Gordon-Bouvier, Oxford-Brooks University
  • 11.30-12.00 tea & coffee
  • 12.00-13.00 Neil Paul Maddox, Maynooth University
  • 13.00-14.00 Sandwich lunch
  • 14.00-15.00 Herring final responses


'The Body, Property and the Relational Self'

Neil Paul Maddox, Maynooth University

This paper examines the claim in Jonathan Herring’s Law and the Relational Self that the property model of the body (while reassuringly presenting the body as self-sufficient, secure and bounded) is inadequate to capture the body’s relation ‘leaky’ nature (bodies break down and interact with other bodies and the environment). I contend that property has been treated rather unfairly and conflated with one possible version of it: individualistic Blackstonian property. Property rights are inherently relational and must frequently interact and accommodate both the property and non-property rights of others. As property rules are default rules, their adoption in preference to, or in parallel with a system of statutory regulation would have the advantage of providing remedies when unanticipated disputes arise, a common problem in a society where we have ongoing and rapid technological development in medicine and biotechnology. 

‘What the relational self tells us about criminal law’ 

David Prendergast, Trinity College Dublin

This paper takes as true and illuminating the main claims in chapters 1 and 2 of Jonathan Herring’s Law and the Relational Self of our essentially relational being, interdependence, and universal vulnerability and examines the implications for criminal law. I argue that chapter 7 of the book, ‘Criminal Law and the Relational Self’, overclaims in saying current criminal law is insufficiently attentive to the relational self and in what the relationality and vulnerability views can achieve in reimagining criminal law. My paper aims to provide a recalibration of sorts about precisely where the relational view is helpful in rethinking and reforming criminal law. 

Law and the Relational Self: Reflections from In a Different Voice

Jo Bridgeman, Professor of Healthcare Law and Feminist Ethics, Sussex Law School, University of Sussex

In this paper, I reflect upon the relational self through the insights of Carol Gilligan’s, In a Different Voice (1982). I start by reflecting on the insights of In a Different Voice for the relational self, both conceiving of a self concerned with the preservation of valued relationships, with responsibilities and care. I explain the relationship between the self and the voice of the book’s title and the silencing of the different voice in a ‘patriarchal order’ maintained ‘through the continuing eclipse of women’s experience’ (xxiv),

I then consider the silencing of the different voice through three examples from health law. Two of the examples Jonathan considers in Law and the Relational Self:Evans v Amicus Healthcare Ltd and Others, Lorraine Hadley v Midland Fertility Services Ltd and Others [2003] EWHC 2161 and AB and Others v Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust [2004] EWHC 644. The other is not in the book but Jonathan has written about it in the context of relationality, that is, the medical treatment of teenagers, specifically with reference to Re W (A Minor) (Medical Treatment: Court's Jurisdiction) [1993] Fam 64 and Re M (medical treatment: consent) [1999] 2 FLR 1097. In Law and the Relational Self, Jonathan argued that understanding the universal vulnerability of the relational self brings into focus the centrality of care and caring relationships (40). Attending to the different voice suggests that consideration of care and caring relationships suggests that whilst vulnerability is universal, there is difference in vulnerability. Jonathan’s conclusion in Law and the Relational Self calls for a re-imagining of what the law would look like if it was centred upon the fostering and reward of caring relationships and the state recognised needs arising from, and gave protections to, universal vulnerability; if the state and law took the ‘relational self seriously’ (197). In doing so, both the law and the state should attend to the different voice

“Universal and positive”: analysing the vulnerability of the relational self

Ellen Gordon-Bouvier, Oxford-Brooks University

An analysis of human vulnerability is essential to understanding the self as relational. Herring argues that vulnerability is “universal and positive” and it is these two features that I explore in my paper. In explaining universal vulnerability, Herring not only identifies embodiment (understood temporally) as a source of vulnerability, but also our inevitable dependence on interpersonal and institutional relationships (some of which may mask the extent of our vulnerability). Drawing on Herring’s work, I address the critique that an emphasis on universality “dulls our responses to particular vulnerabilities” (Rogers et al, 2012). In fact,  as I argue, an understanding of universal embodied vulnerability is essential to a theorisation of non-inherent harms such as abusive relational structures.

Herring’s emphasis on vulnerability’s positive aspects represents a challenge to the tendency to view vulnerability as negative or, at best, neutral. In fact, Herring suggests, vulnerability is an essential and desirable part of our relationships, especially in the context of caregiving. However, as I argue, we can only lay ourselves bare and be vulnerable if the law and other state institutions create the relational conditions in which exposing our true vulnerable and caring selves does not in turn open us up to additional harms.

Law and the Abused Self – Criminalising Coercive Control.

Ronah McQuigg, Queen's University Belfast

This paper focuses on Chapter Four of Law and the Relational Self which considers the issue of abuse within intimate relationships.  The paper accepts the view put forward in this chapter that the core of intimate abuse involves coercive control, and builds upon the chapter in terms of exploring the consequences of this understanding of intimate abuse for the law.  The paper examines how understandings of coercive control have been encapsulated in law in the various jurisdictions within the UK and Ireland.  Additionally, the paper engages with the issue raised in the chapter of the impact on children of witnessing domestic abuse or of living in a household in which such abuse takes place.

Private law issues: Are ‘autonomy’ and ‘relationality’ really opposed?

Steve Hedley, University College Cork

The laws of contract, property and tort seem the exemplars of all that Jonathan Herring protests against. Individual rights, individual intent, individual responsibility are part of their very foundations. And modern justificatory theories typically ground themselves on either personal autonomy or economic efficiency. Yet these very same theories also insist on private law’s relational character (whether that relationality is to be discerned morally or politically, or by co-ordinating the parties’ mutual dealings to achieve maximum social benefit). Relationship is always, necessarily, at the heart of these liabilities. By definition, contract law is about relationships; property and tort issues typically turn on the relationship between the parties in dispute. The question private law asks – What does this defendant owe to this plaintiff, in the light of their mutual involvement? – is always a question about their relationship, whatever else it asks. What is Herring saying about these relationships, and the values manifested in judging them? And what is he demanding of the modern law, beyond what it is already doing? These questions are asked against the background of modern autonomy-based justifications of private law, such as those advanced by Ernest Weinrib, Anita Bernstein, John Goldberg and Benjamin Zipursky, and Hanoch Dagan.

Contact the Centre for Ethics in Public Life (CEPL)

CEPL, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
E: cepl@ucd.ie