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What does law tell us about our relations to material things? Property theorists maintain that there are no legal relations between persons and things. Things can be owned, transferred, bequeathed, assigned, repossessed, and so on, but such arrangements really describe relationships among different persons with regard to the object rather than relationships between persons and things.

Yet the quality or shape of the legal relations among persons often depends on the cultural meaning of the thing in question, a meaning (or meanings) that exists, in some form anyway, prior to or independent of, legal concepts traditionally attached to things such as ownership or liability. Our legal relations with one another are informed by our social relations to things in that we relate to one another through (in, on, and around) things and not merely to things themselves.

What, then, is the legal significance of the social significance of things? How does the law comprehend, affect, reinforce, transform, and undermine the relations between persons and things? In this Essay I examine these questions by looking at connections between one particular thing-the automobile-and one particular group of persons-women. How it is that the automobile has come to serve women-as drivers, as passengers, as purchasers-less well than men? After all, in some sense a car is a gender neutral machine seemingly capable of taking drivers of either sex equal distances. But how long after the first one was welded together did it shed any pretense of such neutrality? How did that transformation come about and what has law made of the results?


Law | Law and Gender | Law and Society


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