Legal Distinctions or Discriminations?

Report: Discrimination and law
Political Strategies and Epistemological Challenges
By Juliette Rennes

By what process does a legal distinction that was previously accepted (whether based on sex, sexual orientation, nationality, age, or marital status) become publicly perceived as discriminatory? This question can be understood both as a research question (within the sociology of social movements or the historiography of struggles for equality) and as a question of political tactics (where it concerns the appropriate strategies for demonstrating the illegitimacy of a particular legal distinction). This paper examines the link between two points of view on the crisis affecting the justification of legal distinctions: that of sociological and historical investigation, and that of political action. By examining the historical narratives by which certain legal categories came to be contested, this paper analyzes the political challenges posed by this history, focusing particularly on comparisons between contemporary demands for equality and prior demands that have now become legitimate.

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