Parental rights in non-ideal circumstances

Convenors: Anca Gheaus ( and Adam Swift

What are the minimal requirements for adequate parenting, and how should we settle custodial disputes? What rights may parents legitimately exercise over, and on behalf of, their children? Recently such questions have received a good deal of attention from political theorists, yet most discussions are premised on ideal conditions and are pitched at a high level of abstraction. The resulting theories are oblivious to particular institutional and societal contexts, neglect empirical factors, and so lack application to concrete circumstances. Moreover, theories of justice in parenting tend to assume just background conditions: they define parental rights for societies that are distributively fair, and free from discrimination and domination.

Yet we live in societies – and in a world – shaped by particular institutions and characterised by various forms of injustice: poverty, unjust distributions of opportunities and wealth, gender and racial discrimination. These factors complicate the application of existing theories. As the extensive recent literature on ideal and nonideal theory has made clear, it is a complex and interdisciplinary task to draw on such theories so as to generate morally plausible and practically feasible conclusions about what people living here and now should be allowed and enabled to do. This applies both to conduct at the individual level and to questions of policy and institutional design.

The workshop aims to fill an important gap by bringing together two of the most fruitful and productive areas of research in political theory in recent years. It will pursue the methodological implications of the debate around ideal and non ideal theory by combining normative perspectives with empirically informed social science and work on public policy. It will foster valuable interdisciplinary connections between work on the family and the application of normative ideals to practical questions.

We are looking for papers on these and similar topics:

– Policy dilemmas around removing children from their parents and their implications for the idea of the ‘good enough’ parent;

– How to balance the various interests of children and parents when deciding custodial arrangements for children of post-separation families;

– How appropriately to take into account parents’ and children’s perspectives in the making of medical decisions for children at different ages;

– The criteria that would-be adoptive parents should have to meet prior to adoption;

– How to encourage international adoption without creating perverse incentives and unintended consequences for parents and children in poor countries;

– How best to regulate surrogacy contracts – both within jurisdictions and internationally;

– How inadequate or biased public schooling can bear on the parents’ rights over their children’s education;

– How to specify a parent’s duty of care and the legitimacy of parental partiality in circumstances of uncertainty and high risk of bad outcomes;

– Whether parents in disadvantaged groups have greater right to favour their children than parents in advantaged groups.

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