is an American philosopher and feminist theorist, whose work has been influential in political and legal philosophy, ethics, deconstruction, critical theory, and feminism. Cornell is Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature and Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University the State University of New Jersey; Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and a visiting professor at Birkbeck College, University of London.
She received her Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Philosophy and Mathematics from Antioch College in 1978, and her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from University of California Los Angeles Law School in 1981.
All of Cornell’s diverse work is dedicated to thinking the possibility of a more just future through political and legal philosophy, feminism, and critical theory. Cornell is perhaps best known for her numerous interventions into feminist legal philosophy: Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction and the Law (1991); Transformations: Recollective Imagination and Sexual Difference (1993); The Imaginary Domain: Abortion, Pornography and Sexual Harassment (1995); and At The Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality (1998). In these texts, Cornell moves beyond feminist debates over formal equality, sexuate rights, and essentialism to develop the original concepts of “ethical feminism” and “the imaginary domain” which position feminism as a fundamentally ethical project oriented toward the re-imagination of sexual difference through law, politics and aesthetics. Cornell is also widely known for her highly influential work in deconstruction, most notably The Philosophy of the Limit (1992), in which she famously renames deconstruction “the philosophy of the limit,” and argues for the political and ethical significance of Jacques Derrida’s work. These attempts to rethink law and jurisprudence as the opening of the possibility of justice led Cornell to her later works: Just Cause: Freedom, Identity and Rights (2000); Defending Ideals: War, Democracy, and Political Struggles (2004); Moral Images of Freedom: A Future for Critical Theory (2008); and Symbolic Forms for a New Humanity: Cultural and Racial Reconfigurations of Critical Theory (co-authored with Kenneth Michael Panfilio, 2010). These texts draw upon feminist, race, and critical theory to argue for the importance of imagination and symbolic forms in the project of freedom, the preservation of dignity, and creating a new future for humanity. Cornell’s interest in the aesthetic is further brought out in Between Women and Generations: Legacies of Dignity (2004) and Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity (2009). In these texts she explores film and women’s personal narrative as crucial sites for the aesthetic reconfiguration of what it means to be human, both individually and collectively. Finally, Cornell’s work in South Africa with the uBuntu Project has led to her most recent works uBuntu and the Law: African Ideals and Postapartheid Jurisprudence (co-edited with Nyoko Muvangua, 2011) and Law and Revolution in South Africa: uBuntu, Dignity and the Struggle for Constitutional Transformation (2014). Here, Cornell explores the role of indigenous values, especially uBuntu, in the law, politics and ethics of the new South Africa. This work in South Africa continues to build on Cornell’s career-long project of reimagining law as a force of revolutionary ethical transformation by looking beyond the Euro-American intellectual tradition. The depth and range of Cornell’s visionary work has led to her being called “one of the last grand critical theorists of our time.”