Iris Marion Young

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Iris Marion Young
Iris Marion Young.jpg
Born(1949-01-02)January 2, 1949
New York City, United States
DiedAugust 1, 2006(2006-08-01) (aged 57)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Alma mater Queens College (CUNY)
Pennsylvania State University
Main interests
Contemporary political theory, feminist social theory, and public policy

Iris Marion Young (2 January 1949 1 August 2006) was an American political theorist and socialist feminist [1] focused on the nature of justice and social difference. She served as Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and was affiliated with the Center for Gender Studies and the Human Rights program there. Her research covered contemporary political theory, feminist social theory, and normative analysis of public policy. She believed in the importance of political activism and encouraged her students to involve themselves in their communities. [2]


Early life

Young was born in New York City and studied philosophy and graduated with honors at Queens College. She was awarded a Master's degree and PhD in philosophy by Pennsylvania State University in 1974. [2]


Before coming to the University of Chicago she taught political theory for nine years in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, and before then taught philosophy at several institutions, including the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Miami University. [2] During the summer term of 1995 Young was a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Young held visiting fellowships at several universities and institutes around the world, including the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, the Australian National University, the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa.

Philosophical contributions

Young's interests ranged broadly, including contemporary theories of justice; democracy and difference; feminist political theory; continental political theory including Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas; ethics and international affairs; gender, race and public policy.

Social groups and the politics of difference

Central to Young's philosophy is the contention that concepts of justice were not limited to individual desert. Instead, the recognition of social groups was essential to redressing structural inequalities. Because the social rules, laws, and institutional routines constraining certain people constrain them as a group, and because our awareness of injustice almost universally compares classes of people rather than individuals directly, our evaluations of inequality and injustice must recognize the salience of social groups as constituent of a complete theory of justice. [3]

Young's recognition of social groups impelled her to argue for a post-liberal "politics of difference," in which equal treatment of individuals does not override the redress of group-based oppression. Young contrasted her approach with contemporary liberal political philosophers like John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, who she claims conflate the moral equivalence of people with procedural rules that treat all people equally.

Five Faces of Oppression

Among Young's most widely disseminated ideas is her model of the "five faces of oppression," first published in Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990). Synthesizing feminist, queer, poststructuralist, and post-colonial critiques of classical Marxism, Young argued at least five distinct types of oppression could not be collapsed into more fundamental causes, and furthermore could not be reduced to dimensions of distributive justice. [4] Her "five faces" are:

Embodied phenomenology

One of Young's most well-known essays is "Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality," first published in Human Studies (1980). In it she explores differences in feminine and masculine movement in the context of a gendered and embodied phenomenological perspective [2] based on ideas from Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. She discusses how girls are socialized and conditioned to restrict their body movement and think of their bodies as fragile, which then has repercussions for their confidence in accomplishing tasks and goals later in life. The essay also serves as a critique and extension of Simone de Beauvoir's ideas of 'immanence' and 'transcendence'.

Structural Injustice

One of Young's contributions, of particular importance to moral and political philosophy, global ethics and global justice are the concepts of structural injustice and its associated approach to responsibility: the social connection model. In an idea developed at length in Responsibility for Justice, [5] a collection of Young's work published after her death as well as in several other writings, [6] [7] Young argues that structural (social) injustice 'exists when social processes put large categories of persons under a systematic threat of domination or deprivation of the means to develop and exercise their capacities, at the same time as these processes enable others to dominate or have a wide range of opportunities for developing and exercising their capacities’. [2] Because most of us are implicated at some level in contributing to structural injustice, this also gives rise to what Young calls a social connection model of responsibility. [2] In this model, we are to ask ourselves how agents and institutions are to think of themselves in relation to structural injustice. This is starkly contrasted with a 'liability for harm' model of responsibility, which is more focused on finding guilt, blame or fault for a particular harm. According to Young, the main reason why the liability model fails to address structural injustice is that structures are produced and reproduced by a large number of people acting within accepted norms, rules and practices, and so harm cannot always be traced back to the actions or motivations of particular individuals. The social connection model, in contrast, is forward-looking suggesting that all those who contribute through their actions to structural processes that result in injustice [7] have a (political) responsibility to remedy that injustice. In this, she departs from and contrasts her approach to other political philosophers such as John Rawls and David Miller and the focus on distributive and statist approaches to justice, and draws much inspiration from Hannah Arendt's work.

Young applied her model of responsibility to a wide range of real-world scenarios, but perhaps most to global labour justice. [8] For example, in connection to the unjust conditions of sweatshop labour, [9] and the political responsibility of consumers in high income countries to remedy it. The social connection model has five main features. It is (1) Not isolating (unlike the liability model which seeks to define specific liable actors), it (2) judges the background conditions that other models would find normal or acceptable, it is (3) forward-looking not backward-looking, it is a model of (4) shared responsibilities, and it can only be (5) discharged through collective action (e.g. through community engagement rather than personal action).

Later life

Iris married David Alexander, and gave birth to a daughter, Morgen Alexander-Young.

After an 18-month struggle with esophageal cancer, Young died at her home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago on 1 August 2006 at the age of 57. [10] [11]

Memoriam activities

In recognition of her work with the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago, the Center's distinguished faculty lecture series was renamed in her honor in November 2006. In addition, the University of Pittsburgh Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, created the Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement in 2008 to honor Young's memory and to recognize faculty/staff, graduate, and undergraduate members of the University who impact the community. [12] Young was also honored at Penn State University through a series of gifts which created the Iris Marion Young Diversity Scholar Award as part of the association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory's and the Rock Ethics Institute's Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute. [13] This Institute is designed to encourage undergraduate students from under-represented groups to consider future study in the field of philosophy. Students who are part of this summer institute are awarded the Iris Marion Young Diversity Award and their studies during the institute include her work.

In 2009, the Oxford University Press published an edited volume dedicated to Young's philosophy titled Dancing with Iris: The Philosophy of Iris Marion Young. [14]

Selected bibliography


Chapters in books


Her writings have been translated into several languages, including German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swedish and Croatian, and she lectured widely in North America, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

See also

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  1. Aubert, Isabelle; Garrau, Marie; Guérard de Latour, Sophie (2019). "Iris Marion Young and Responsibility". Critical Horizons. 20 (2): 103–108. doi: 10.1080/14409917.2019.1596200 . Iris Young defined herself as a socialist feminist
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Nagel, Mechthild (May–June 2007). "Iris M. Young, 1949-2006" . Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  3. Young, Iris Marion (2001). "Equality of Whom? Social Groups and Judgements of Injustice" (PDF). The Journal of Political Philosophy. 9 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1111/1467-9760.00115. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-10.
  4. Young, Iris Marion (2004). "Five Faces of Oppression" (PDF). In Maree Heldke, Lisa; O'Conor, Peg (eds.). Oppression, Privilege, and Resistance: Theoretical Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism. McGraw-Hill. pp. 37–63. ISBN   9780072882438. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-10.
  5. Reiman, Jeffrey (2012-01-01). Young, Iris Marion (ed.). "The Structure of Structural Injustice: Thoughts on Iris Marion Young's "Responsibility for Justice"". Social Theory and Practice. 38 (4): 738–751. doi:10.5840/soctheorpract201238439. JSTOR   23558769.
  6. Young, Iris Marion, 'Political Responsibility and Structural Justice', The Lindley Lecture, University of Kansas 2003.
  7. 1 2 Young, Iris Marion (2005). "Responsibility and Global Justice: A Social Connection Model". Anales de la Cátedra Francisco Suárez. 39: 709–726.
  8. Young, Iris, Marion (2004). "Responsibility and Global Labour Justice" (PDF). Journal of Political Philosophy. 12 (4): 365–388. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9760.2004.00205.x. hdl:1811/31843.
  9. Young, Iris Marion Young (2006). "Responsibility and Global Justice: A Social Connection Model" (PDF). Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation. 23: 102–129. doi:10.1017/S0265052506060043.
  10. Jensen, Trevor (3 August 2006). "Iris Marion Young: 1949-2006: U. of C. Professor Focused on Inequality, Feminism". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  11. Schonwald, Josh (2 August 2006). "Iris Marion Young, 1949-2006" . Retrieved 19 December 2007.
  12. "Iris Marion Young Award". Gender, sexuality, & women's studies program, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  13. "Iris Marion Young Award". Rock Ethiics Institute, The Pennsylvania State University. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  14. Dancing with Iris: The Philosophy of Iris Marion Young. Studies in Feminist Philosophy. Oxford University Press. 2009-10-08. ISBN   9780195389128.

Further reading