The domination contract


  • Charles W. Mills



Contrato de dominação. Contrato hegemônico. Contrato social.


Carole Pateman’s The Sexual Contract (1988) has become a classic text of second-wave feminism, and is widely and deservedly seen as constituting one of the most important challenges of the last twenty-five years to the frameworks and assumptions of “malestream” political theory. Moreover, its influence is not restricted to gender issues, since it was the inspiration for my own book, The Racial Contract (1997), which has also become quite successful in the parallel, if not as well-established, field of critical race theory. The impact of both books, of course, originates in part from their refusal respectively of “pink” and “black” theoretical ghettoization for a frontal conceptual engagement with a (male, white) intellectual apparatus, social contract theory, that has historically been central to the modern Western political tradition, and which has been spectacularly revived in the past four decades as a result of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971). Pateman and I are saying that the history of gender and racial subordination requires a rethinking of how we do political theory, that it cannot be a matter of some minor, largely cosmetic changes – a few “she’s” sprinkled in where there were previously only “he’s,” a pro forma (if that much) deploring of the racism of Enlightenment theorists – before continuing basically as before. As such, the goal is a revisioning of the tradition that we both want the white male majority of practitioners in the field to accept and to incorporate into their own work. What, though, is the specific nature of this challenge for contract theory in general, and Rawlsian normative theory in particular? After all, Pateman is generally represented as being quite hostile to the project of trying to retrieve the contract for positive ends. So in this and the next chapter, I want to make a case for generalizing this revisionist version of the contract and turning it to the theorization of gender and racial justice. My claim will be that the concept of a “domination contract” can be fruitfully employed to overturn the misleading framework of assumptions of mainstream social contract theory, thereby better positioning us to tackle the pressing issues of “non-ideal theory” that, far from being marginal, in fact determine the fate of the majority of the population.