Broadly understood, essentialism is a belief that things have certain core characteristics that are crucial to making up their identities. Without those core characteristics, the things would not be as they are. Inasmuch as essentialism is an aspect of form, it cuts across various domains including philosophy, political theory, cultural studies, ethics, psychology, and more. Each domain, not surprisingly, has its own twist on essentialism.

In legal studies, essentialism became a prominent concept in connection with feminist jurisprudence and critical race theory. In an important article published in 1990, Angela Harris argued that feminist jurisprudence had to move away from an essentialist conception of woman. Harris wrote that scholars could not adequately describe woman's experience independently of class, race, and sexual orientation. She argued that the ...

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