Ute Gerhard, Trudie Knijn and Jane Lewis The idea of contract has been fundamental to workings of Western states since the eighteenth century. At the end of the twentieth century there was evidence that governments were seeking to employ the mechanism of contract in what had become the major ﬁelds of collective provision under the auspices of modern ‘welfare states’, particularly social security, education, health and social care services. Indeed, the mechanism of contract was also being considered by governments as an appropriate way of ordering personal relationships. This pervasive shift towards ‘contractualization’ is inevitably premised on assumptions regarding greater individualization. Some feminists at the beginning and at the end of the twentieth century have been inclined to view a more contractual model as a means of promoting greater equality. However, insofar as men and women remain substantively unequal in many respects, not least economically, the move to contractualization may also pose signiﬁcant threats. The idea of a ‘social contract’ was central to the way in which eighteenthcentury political theorists solved the conundrum of how to secure political obligation and yet protect individual freedom. For Locke and Rousseau, the parties to the social contract were the citizens, who agreed to a form of government. The problem for women was of course that they were excluded from the status of citizen (Okin, 1989). The concept of contract was also crucial to the development of markets. The extension of civil rights in the eighteenth century was designed to permit people to...
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