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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: August 2010

Discursive Deficits: A Feminist Perspective on the Power of Technical Knowledge in Fiscal Law and Policy


No great powers of observation are needed to notice that both tax law and fiscal policy formation are dominated by a relatively small and elite group of experts. Nor would many dispute the inaccessibility of the technical language in which these issues are often discussed. In this paper, I focus on the way these technical discourses tend to deny the normative content of tax law and policy, and thus to deflect political challenges to the prevailing fiscal order. In this manner, technical discourses work to protect the interests of the relatively wealthy and powerful, and to sustain and legitimate the economic marginalization of women and other subordinated groups.


What is a technical discourse? The term has several layers of meaning, as it is used in this paper. Tax law is technical in the dictionary sense that it is a specialized field of knowledge, with its own language, involving a terminology and grammatical style that is not readily accessible to persons without specialized training. This inaccessibility is not merely a function of complexity or excessive detail. Indeed, bits of jargon and special terms can be used to bestow authority on even the most superficial or oversimplified analyses.

In addition, tax law is affiliated with certain other discourses that are technical in the same sense of being specialized fields of knowledge: economics, accounting, public finance theory, traditional tax policy analysis. Aspects of these discourses have been imported into, and internalized within[,] tax law, though judges in tax cases are quick to assert that such external knowledges always remain subject to any overriding legal principles.