Yale Journal of Law & Feminism
Vulnerability and dependency theory offers a rich and promising vision for those who seek to conceptualize and build a more responsive state. In theorizing a road to a supportive state, however, what would it mean to take up the challenge of intersectionality? What would it mean to center the analysis around key aspects of the relationship between legal institutions and the poor, disproportionately women and families of color who have no choice but to avail themselves of what remains of a shredded social safety net? The Hyperregulatory State argues that, for women who have no choice but to avail themselves of the safety net (think welfare or public housing) and who by their sheer geographic exposure to the mechanisms of government systems (think over-policing of poor communities of color, public hospitals and inner city public schools) find themselves subject to government intrusion (think child welfare agencies and the criminalization of poverty) the state does not merely fail to respond to their needs. In fact, crucial interactions between poor women and the state are characterized by a phenomenon here termed regulatory intersectionality, defined as the means by which state systems (in the examples herein, social welfare, child welfare and criminal justice systems) interlock to share information and heighten the adverse consequences of unlawful or noncompliant conduct. At every juncture these punitive mechanisms are, in effect, targeted by race, class, gender and place to subordinate poor African American women, families and communities. The state is, in this sense, hyperregulatory. This article describes in detail the specific phenomenon of regulatory intersectionality and contextualizes it within a larger schema of hyperregulation. Paying careful attention to regulatory intersectionality and hyperregulation would revise the theories of vulnerability and the responsive state in two crucial and related ways. First, it serves as a practical warning. If the current social safety net is so profoundly characterized by mechanisms that interlock to impose escalating punishment, the road to a supportive state that does not function in this way is likely to be long and complicated. Second, in attempting to realize the vision of the supportive or responsive state, a crucial first step is restructuring and building support systems to enhance rather than undermine the autonomy of poor women, poor families and poor communities. If we fail to center and prioritize those realities and those tasks, then this particular and crucial part of political and legal theory is again in danger of leaving behind those who are, by virtue of race, gender, class, and place, among the most vulnerable.
Bach, Wendy A., "The Hyperregulatory State: Women, Race, Poverty and Support" (2014). Scholarly Works. 229.