Death of Sara Ruddick

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Professor Sara Ruddick (Philosophy, New School) died last month.  Here is a portion of her obituary from the New York Times.

Sara Ruddick, whose 1989 book, “Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace,” laid the groundwork for a feminist approach to understanding and analyzing the practices and intellectual disciplines involved in rearing children, died on March 20 at her home in Manhattan. She was 76.

The cause was complications of pulmonary fibrosis, her husband, William Ruddick, said.

Ms. Ruddick, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies for nearly 40 years at the New School for Social Research, developed an approach to child-rearing that shifted the focus away from motherhood as a social institution or biological imperative and toward the day-to-day activities of raising and educating a child. This work, she argued, shaped the parent as much as the child, giving rise to specific cognitive capacities and values — qualities of intellect and soul. Doing shapes thinking, in other words. * * *

Provocatively, she refused to define mothering as a specifically female activity. It was, she insisted, sex-neutral.

“Anyone who commits her or himself to responding to children’s demands, and makes the work of response a considerable part of her or his life, is a mother,” she wrote in the preface to the 1995 edition of the book.

From these premises she developed the argument that mothers, by virtue of their maternal work, cannot countenance violence, whether in social settings like the playground or the workplace, or as an instrument of state policy. They are, by life experience, trained to resist militarism and war.

The book encouraged a new way of looking at mothers, children and parental practices. Writing in Women’s Studies Quarterly in 2009, the feminist scholar Andrea O’Reilly paired it with Adrienne Rich’s “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution” (1976) as “the most significant work in maternal scholarship and the new field of motherhood studies.”

I encountered Ruddick’s work 6 years after it was published.  By the early- to mid-1990’s, her influence was seeping into feminist legal theory.  Maternal Thinking is one of the (many) books that influenced me quite deeply early in my legal studies.  To my mind, Ruddick’s work laid the groundwork for much of contemporary legal scholarship on caretakers and vulnerability.  Professor Ruddick will be missed.

Her full obituary is available here.

-Bridget Crawford

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