Personal Autonomy in Plural Societies: A Principle and its Paradoxes, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Personal Autonomy in Plural Societies

A Principle and its Paradoxes, 1st Edition

Edited by Marie-Claire Foblets, Michele Graziadei, Alison Dundes Renteln


302 pages

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9781138220218
pub: 2017-11-20
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315413617
pub: 2017-11-22
from $27.48

FREE Standard Shipping!


This volume addresses the exercise of personal autonomy in contemporary situations of normative pluralism. In the Western liberal tradition, from a strictly legal and theoretical perspective the social individual has the right to exercise the autonomy of his or her will. In a context of legal plurality, however, personal autonomy becomes more complicated. Can and should personal autonomy be recognized as a legal foundation for protecting a person’s freedom to renounce what others view as his or her fundamental ‘human rights’? This collection develops an interdisciplinary conceptual framework to address these questions and presents empirical studies examining the gap between the principle of personal autonomy and its implementation. In a context of cultural diversity, this gap manifests itself in two particular ways. First, not every culture gives the same pre-eminence to personal autonomy when examining the legal effects of an individual’s acts. Second, in a society characterized by ‘weak pluralism’, the legal assessment of personal autonomy often favours the views of the dominant majority. In highlighting these diverse perspectives and problematizing the so-called ‘guardian function’ of human rights, i.e., purporting to protect weaker parties by limiting their personal autonomy in the name of gender equality, fair trial, etc., this book offers a nuanced approach to the principle of autonomy and addresses the questions of whether it can effectively be deployed in situations of internormativity and what conditions must be met in order to ensure that it is not rendered devoid of all meaning.


'This rich Volume not only invites – but forces – the reader to critically reflect on the meaning of liberalism, in a liberal democracy, in relation to the notions of personal autonomy and human rights. Whatever has been taken for granted turns out to be much more complicated when contrasted with the needs in a pluralistic society. The Volume is a warmly recommended reading for anyone concerned about the limits of cultural diversity.'

Maarit Jänterä-Jareborg, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult., Professor of Private International Law and International Civil Procedure, Uppsala University, Sweden

'In principle, personal autonomy should be a useful idea to navigate the troubled waters of contemporary plural societies. But what happens if that rudder is itself culturally conditioned? Is it still personal autonomy to stay the course? These are the main questions that this book seeks to answer.'

Carlos Gómez Martínez, Judge in the Court of Appeal of the Balearic Islands

Table of Contents

Introduction: Individual Autonomy in Contemporary Plural Societies: How to Reconcile Competing Normative Standards? - Marie-Claire Foblets, Michele Graziadei and Alison Dundes Renteln

Part I: Autonomy in the Face of Cultural Diversity: Disciplinary Perspectives

1. The Fault in our Stars: Personal Autonomy, Philosophy, and the Law - Michele Graziadei

2. Confronting Autonomy in Liberal Practice - Geoffrey Brahm Levey

3. Autonomy and Deeply Embedded Cultural Identities - John Christman

4. Three Approaches to the Protection of Religious Freedom: Choice, Interest, Identity - Avigail Eisenberg

5. Appeals to Choice and Sexual Equality: Debates over Religious Attire - Monique Deveaux

6. Why the Individual must be Defended ~ Seemingly against all Anthropological Odds - Olaf Zenker

Part II: Autonomy in Context: Empirical Illustrations

A: The Majoritarian Assessment of Personal Autonomy

7. Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Personal Autonomy as a Pillar for the Accommodation of Employees’ Religious Practices? - Katayoun Alidadi

8. Adopting a Face-Veil, Concluding an Islamic Marriage: Autonomy, Agency, and Liberal-Secular Rule - Annelies Moors

9. Unregistered Muslim Marriages in the UK: Examining Normative Influences Shaping Choice of Legal Protection - Rajnaara Akhtar

10. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Personal Autonomy, Forced Marriage, and the Inherent Jurisdiction in English Law - Alberto Neidhardt

11. Balancing Migration Policy and Personal Autonomy in Private International Law: A Shattered Illusion? - Jinske Verhellen

12. The Anti-Religious Bias in Personal Autonomy: Towards Coherence and a Solution - Toon Agten

13. Shaping Notions of Personal Autonomy in Plural Societies: Addressing Female Genital Cutting in France and the European Regulatory Framework’s Approach to this Custom - Lucia Bellucci

14. The Human Rights Dimensions of Virginity Restoration Surgery - Alison Dundes Renteln

B. Individual Agency in situ

15. ‘It is Better for Me to Agree When My Guardian is Here’: Consent and Relational Personhood in Postcolonial Malawi - Jessica Johnson

16. The Multiple Search for Autonomy among Moluccans in the Netherlands: A Relational Approach - Keebet von Benda-Beckmann

17. An All but Trivial Abortion: Scrutinizing Sex Selection Legislation in India through the Lens of Women’s Autonomy - Kalindi Kokal

18. Rethinking Social Norms: Contraceptive Use and Women’s Right to Choose in Senegal - Chiara Quagliariello

19. Autonomous Aspirations? Re-reading the CEDAW Drafting Process and Examining Muslim Women’s Contributions - Shaheen Sardar Ali and Arjumand Bano Kazmi

20. ‘That’s not our Culture’: Paradoxes of Personal Property in Indigenous Self-Governance - Ian Kalman

About the Editors

Marie-Claire Foblets is Director of the Department of Law and Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany and Professor of Law at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

Michele Graziadei is Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Turin, Italy and President of the Italian Society for Research on Comparative Law (SIRD).

Alison Dundes Renteln is Professor of Political Science, Anthropology, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, where she teaches International Law and Human Rights.

About the Series

Law and Anthropology

Law and Anthropology

The series is intended as a forum for the publication of outstanding scholarly contributions that strive systematically to involve legal practitioners in the research, thinking, and theorizing about the search for justice and the accommodation of diversity in contemporary pluralistic societies. It focuses on applied legal anthropology, giving equal weight both to an anthropologically informed understanding of diversity of normative orders (often existing side-by-side within a single state system) and to the practical, pragmatic experience and concerns of legal practitioners (judges, lawyers, legal services representatives, etc.) who, in their daily practice, confront the phenomenon of ‘internormativity’ – situations where different normative logics come into contact (and often conflict) with one another – and the resulting need for state legal systems to accommodate this diversity.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / Civil Rights
LAW / Comparative
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General