Relational vulnerability: law, myths, and homemaking contributions in cohabiting relationships


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Gordon-Bouvier, Ellen (2019). Relational vulnerability: law, myths, and homemaking contributions in cohabiting relationships. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis examines the law applicable to unmarried couples on relationship breakdown through the lens of vulnerability theory, developing a framework of 'relational vulnerability' which argues that as a result of the state's expectation of and preference for economic self-sufficiency, the homemaker becomes vulnerable. Relational vulnerability is defined as the broad susceptibility to harm that arises as a result of an individual existing within an uneven or unequal relational framework.

Firstly, I argue that relational vulnerability is primarily caused by the way that the state, through law, prioritises autonomy and rationality at the homemaker's expense. Her inability to live up to the economic ideal causes her harm on economic, emotional, and spatial levels.

Secondly, I argue that legal understandings of homemaking (i.e. care and domestic work) are influenced by myths of altruism and domesticity, labelling it as gendered, sentimental, and privatised. As a result of this, the homemaker struggles to assert an interest in the family home on relationship breakdown.

Thirdly, I argue that the state owes an obligation to redress relational vulnerability by promoting resilience. In the final chapter, I examine three hypothetical responses to vulnerability, evaluating the extent to which these are able to make the homemaker resilient.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Birmingham Law School
Funders: Other
Other Funders: University of Birmingham
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
K Law > KD England and Wales


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