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Whose responsibility is it—that of the individual, society, or both—to meet the needs of citizens and to what degree, how, when, and why? This article investigates this set of inquiries by examining the ongoing debate over sex education in the United States between advocates for the abstinence-only and the comprehensive approaches, conveyed here through their curricula. The debate reflects a broader ideological struggle over how a democratic political community distributes moral responsibility. Personal responsibility is illustrated by abstinence-only curricula, whereas social responsibility is made evident in the comprehensive approach. These approaches establish a dualistic framework for understanding morality that marginalizes politics, deflecting attention away from the moral assumptions behind the gendered distribution of resources in a political community. Collective responsibility, this article argues, provides an alternative moral groundwork and inclusive conceptual perspective that brings politics and the power dynamics of the distributive function within a community into focus. From a collective perspective, the answer to the question “whose responsibility?” then shifts from either the individual or society to both at the same time.


Copyright 2009 Cambridge University Press

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Politics & Gender

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Boryczka, Jocelyn. (June 2009) “Whose Responsibility? The Politics of Sex Education Policy in the United States,” Politics & Gender, Cambridge University Press, 5 (2), pp. 185-210.



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