Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2020
Relational Autonomy and Ameliorative Inquiry
This paper suggests that the contemporary feminist debate on relational autonomy is best understood as an attempt at ameliorative inquiry—the concept of autonomy is defined in order to secure political and theoretical advantages. Most theorists adopt some sort of constructionist, or relational, account precisely because of the political and theoretical advantages relational accounts are meant to offer. But there are also significant drawbacks to this approach. I argue that there are reasons to be skeptical of ameliorative inquiries into the concept of autonomy: first, the goals of inquiry have not been made explicit and may not be shared; second, because ameliorative inquiries are guided by unclear and unshared goals, the debate will continue to pull feminists in conflicting directions; and finally, the normative and aspirational nature of ameliorative inquiry unacceptably threatens the exclusion of some women from the category of autonomous agents.