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Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law [Paperback]

by Martha Minow
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 23, 1991 0801499771 978-0801499777

Should a court order medical treatment for a severely disabled newborn in the face of the parents' refusal to authorize it? How does the law apply to a neighborhood that objects to a group home for developmentally disabled people? Does equality mean treating everyone the same, even if such treatment affects some people adversely? Does a state requirement of employee maternity leave serve or violate the commitment to gender equality?

Martha Minow takes a hard look at the way our legal system functions in dealing with people on the basis of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, and disability. Minow confronts a variety of dilemmas of difference resulting from contradictory legal strategies—strategies that attempt to correct inequalities by sometimes recognizing and sometimes ignoring differences. Exploring the historical sources of ideas about difference, she offers challenging alternative ways of conceiving of traits that legal and social institutions have come to regard as "different." She argues, in effect, for a constructed jurisprudence based on the ability to recognize and work with perceptible forms of difference.

Minow is passionately interested in the people—"different" people—whose lives are regularly (mis)shaped and (mis)directed by the legal system's ways of handling them. Drawing on literary and feminist theories and the insights of anthropology and social history, she identifies the unstated assumptions that tend to regenerate discrimination through the very reforms that are supposed to eliminate it. Education for handicapped children, conflicts between job and family responsibilities, bilingual education, Native American land claims—these are among the concrete problems she discusses from a fresh angle of vision.

Minow firmly rejects the prevailing conception of the self that she believes underlies legal doctrine—a self seen as either separate and autonomous, or else disabled and incompetent in some way. In contrast, she regards the self as being realized through connection, capable of shaping an identity only in relationship to other people. She shifts the focus for problem solving from the "different" person to the relationships that construct that difference, and she proposes an analysis that can turn "difference" from a basis of stigma and a rationale for unequal treatment into a point of human connection. "The meanings of many differences can change when people locate and revise their relationships to difference," she asserts. "The student in a wheelchair becomes less different when the building designed without him in mind is altered to permit his access." Her book evaluates contemporary legal theories and reformulates legal rights for women, children, persons with disabilities, and others historically identified as different.

Here is a powerful voice for change, speaking to issues that permeate our daily lives and form a central part of the work of law. By illuminating the many ways in which people differ from one another, this book shows how lawyers, political theorist, teachers, parents, students—every one of us—can make all the difference,


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Martha Louise Minow is the Morgan and Helen Chu Professor of Law and the Dean of Harvard Law School.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (July 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801499771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801499777
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Minow gives a well-balanced overview of the problem of being different and how we tend to define "difference" as something inherent in others. She offers solid suggestions for overcoming the unstated assumptions we make that harm those whom we see as different. Her references are well-documented, and cover a broad spectrum of political perceptions.
Minow recognizes that the same unstated assumptions that affect our views of the "different" also affect the inflexibility of our legal system. Her explanations are both clear and cogent.
The work is strengthened by practical illustrations and by the realization that sometimes we work in less than ideal situations, with what we have. Well written and very "read"able. One of my favorites.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dilemma of Difference January 3, 2006
For Martha Minow the "difference dilemma" is the social condition, social paradigm, and set of social events - in particular those in relation with the law, that remove all possibility to consider and provide a `choice between integration and separation' (pp. 20-21). This is when it becomes either (politically) unfeasible, or (financially) impracticable, or even (legally) impossible to treat people as other, as different without making them carry the stigma of difference and exclusion, and consider people as same without becoming insensitive and indifferent to their otherness, needs and idiosyncrasies.

To reduce the effects of the dilemma and to suggest first solutions, Minow advocates a shift in the paradigm used to describe "difference": `from a focus on the distinctions between people to a focus on the relationships within which we notice and draw distinctions' (p. 15). This is because the "difference dilemma" has grown from the way society has constructed categories and decided on this basis whom to include and whom to exclude.

To achieve her purpose, with an emphasis on the law and legal practice in the US, Minow divides her book into three parts.

Part 1 deals with the dilemma as such. Minow gives in chapter 1 detailed explanations and legal examples in education (bilingual and special) that illustrate well the "difference dilemma". Chapter 2 is concerned with examining the forces (i.e. assumptions) that render the "difference dilemma" intractable. These sources of difference include considering that "difference" is intrinsic, adopting an unstated point of reference and comparison, treating the other as having no perspective, considering the other perspectives as irrelevant, and considering that the social and economic arrangements are natural and neutral.
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