Jonathan Herring

Mar 11, 2021

Law and the Relational Self

Cambridge University Press 2019

The concept of the individual self - a being that is autonomous, rational and largely without vulnerability - shapes current legal frameworks, the power dynamics between individuals, and limits the opportunities of many people who are marginalised to flourish in their own conception of the good life. In his latest book, Professor Jonathan Herring argues for a radical reconceptualisation of the self. One based not on individual rights, but instead which focuses on promoting and protecting caring relationships between people. He argues that the law has the potential to play a powerful role in shaping a relational concept of self, and that this is what it should do. Instead of discriminating against vulnerability, the law should celebrate the universal vulnerabilities of all. Rather than disadvantaging carers, the law has the power to recognise our mutual interdependence and interconnectedness; this will bring about a more equitable society for all, one in which the value and dignity of all variations of what it is to be human can be recognised and celebrated. 

In Law and the Relational Self (Cambridge UP, 2019) Herring provides a comprehensive theoretical framework of the relational self which he applies in real-life practical situations: he examines domestic abuse, medical law, family law and criminal law. In each of these examples the Herring makes a convincing case for replacing the concept of the individual self with that of the relational self, and shows the power of law in doing so. 

 This is an important book and should change the way that legal scholars, practitioners and all individuals think about themselves and how the law works. It offers potential for a new way of being, and a world where the things that really matter are protected in law. 

Jonathan Herring is a fellow in Law at Exeter College, and a professor of Law in the Law Faculty at the University of Oxford. At the time that this interview was recorded he had over 250 publications, including 107 books on topics spanning family law, medical law, criminal law and legal issues surrounding care and old age.

Jane Richards is a doctoral student at the University of Hong Kong. You can find her on twitter where she follows all things related to human rights and Hong Kong politics @JaneRichardsHK

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Jane Richards

Jane Richards is a doctoral student at the University of Hong Kong. You can find her on twitter where she follows all things related to human rights and Hong Kong politics @JaneRichardsHK

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