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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought

Professors Douglas (Department Chair), Sarat, Sitze; Umphrey‡, Senior Lecturer Delaney; Visiting Assistant Professors Brangan and Siegel '14.

The Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST) places the study of law within the context of a liberal arts education. The Department offers courses that treat law as a historically evolving and culturally specific enterprise in which moral argument, distinctive interpretive practices, and force are brought to bear on the organization of social life. These courses use legal materials to explore conventions of reading, argument and proof, problems of justice and injustice, tensions between authority and community, and contests over social meanings and practices. In addition, the curriculum of LJST is designed to foster the development of a substantive focus for student interests in the study of law and skills in analysis, research, and writing as well as capacity for independent work.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of the LJST major, we expect our graduates to have attained a nuanced understanding of law as a subject of liberal inquiry, attending to the ways law combines moral argument, interpretive practice and force in regulating social life; to have learned the history and development of legal orders in the United States, while also coming to appreciate law in its broader cross-cultural, historical, and global dimensions; to be able to write and speak about legal phenomena with precision, clarity, creativity and analytic rigor; to have developed sophisticated independent research skills; and to be able to use their legal learning and the skills they develop in their vocational and civic lives.

Major Program

A major in Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought consists of a minimum of ten courses.

Offerings in the Department include courses in Legal Theory (these courses emphasize the moral and philosophical dimensions that inform legal life and link the study of law with the history of social and political thought), Interpretive Practices (these courses emphasize the ways law attempts to resolve normative problems through rituals of textual interpretation), Legal Institutions (these courses focus on the particular ways different legal institutions translate moral judgments and interpretive practices into regulation and socially sanctioned force), and Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (these courses explore the ways in which law and societies change over time, as well as the interdependence of law and culture).

Prior to graduation, LJST majors are required to take LJST 103 (Legal Institutions), LJST 110 (Intro to Legal Theory) and LJST 143 (Law’s History). LJST majors also must take two seminars during their junior year, one of which will be an Analytic Seminar and one of which will be a Research Seminar. Analytic Seminars emphasize close analysis of text, practice, or image, and frequent writing; Research Seminars require students to complete substantial, independent projects. Study abroad or other contingencies may require alterations of the timing of these requirements in individual cases.

Placement Information

The Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought department takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study, contextualization and theorizing of law. LJST is not a pre-law program: students wishing to apply to law school should review this information.

For New Students

If you are interested in a 200 level course, you should email the professor and ask if the course would be appropriate for new students.

 Departmental Honors Program

The Department awards Honors to seniors who have achieved distinction in their course work, whose independent projects are judged to be of honors quality, and who have a college-wide grade average of A- or above.  Students with a college-wide grade point below an A- may petition to write an Honors Thesis. Students should begin to identify a suitable project during the second semester of their junior year and must submit a proposal by the end of that semester for Departmental evaluation. The proposal consists of a description of an area of inquiry or topic to be covered, a list of courses that provide necessary background for the work to be undertaken, and a bibliography. A first draft of the honor thesis will be submitted before the start of the second semester. The final draft will be submitted in late March or early April and read and evaluated by a committee of readers.

Post-Graduate Study

LJST is not a pre-law program designed to serve the needs of those contemplating careers in law. While medical schools have prescribed requirements for admission, there is no parallel in the world of legal education. Law schools generally advise students to obtain a broad liberal arts education; they are as receptive to students who major in physics, mathematics, history or philosophy as they would be to students who major in LJST. 

LJST majors will be qualified for a wide variety of careers. Some might do graduate work in legal studies, others might pursue graduate studies in political science, history, philosophy, sociology, or comparative literature. For those not inclined toward careers in teaching and scholarship, LJST would prepare students for work in the private or public sector or for careers in social service.

Related Courses

Students may receive credit toward a major in LJST for up to two “related” courses from outside the Department (see list below) or for approved study abroad courses. In no case may those courses be used to satisfy the Analytic or Research Seminar requirements.

  ‡On leave spring 2023.

Law, Jurisp & Social Thought

101 Legal Questions: An Introduction to Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought

This course provides an introduction to the LJST major. It explores the ways in which law combines moral argument, interpretive practice and force in the regulation of social life. Through the close and sustained study of an exemplary case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, students will attain a nuanced understanding of law as a subject of liberal inquiry. While focused on the history and development of legal orders in the United States, the course also will Each section limited to 20 students with 15 spaces reserved for First-year students. Omitted 2022-23.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2020

103 Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice

This course will examine the relationship between legal institutions and democratic practice. How do judicial decisions balance the preferences of the majority and the rights of minorities? Is it possible to reconcile the role that partisan dialogue and commitment play in a democracy with an interest in the neutral administration of law? How does the provisional nature of legislative choice square with the finality of judicial mandate? By focusing on the United States Supreme Court, we will consider various attempts to justify that institution’s power to offer final decisions and binding interpretations of the Constitution that upset majoritarian preferences. We will examine the origins and historical development of the practice of judicial review and consider judicial responses to such critical issues as slavery, the New Deal, and abortion. The evolving contours of Supreme Court doctrine will be analyzed in the light of a continuing effort to articulate a compelling justification for the practice of judicial intervention in the normal operation of a constitutional democracy.

Limited to 40 students. Fall semester. Professor Douglas.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

104 Murder

Murder is the most serious offense against the legal order and is subject to its most punitive responses. It gives meaning to law by establishing the limits of law’s authority and its capacity to tame violence.  Murder is, in addition, a persistent theme in literature and popular culture where it is used to organize narratives of heroism and corruption, good and evil, fate and irrational misfortune. This course uses law, literature, and popular culture to develop their skills in reading, critical analysis of texts, and writing

We will examine the legal definition of homicide and compare that crime with other killings which law condemns (assisted suicide) as well as those it tolerates (killing in self-defense) or itself carries out (police use of lethal force and capital punishment). We will explore various types of murders (e.g. school shootings, terrorism, serial killing and genocide) and inquire into the motives of those who commit these acts. In addition, we will consider representations of murder in literature and film.  Can such representations ever adequately capture murder, the murderer, and the fear that both arouse? In addition to numerous court cases course materials will include Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Toni Morrison, Beloved, and Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem as well as such films as Menace 2 Society, Unforgiven, and Silence of the Lambs. Throughout, we will ask what we can learn about law and culture from the way both imagine, represent, and respond to murder.

This is an intensive writing course. We will focus on the fundamentals of writing style and of helping students develop clear and persuasive writing styles. Along with regular in class writing, frequent short papers will be assigned. Students will be expected to attend regular writing consultations.

Preference to first-year students. Limited to 12 students. Spring Semester. Professor Sarat.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

105 Race, Place, and the Law

(Offered as LJST 105 and BLST 147 [US]) Understandings of and conflicts about place are of central significance to the experience and history of race and race relations in America. The shaping and reshaping of places is an important ingredient in the constitution and revision of racial identities: think of “the ghetto,” Chinatown, or “Indian Country.” Law, in its various manifestations, has been intimately involved in the processes which have shaped geographies of race from the colonial period to the present day: legally mandated racial segregation was intended to impose and maintain both spatial and social distance between members of different races.

The objective of this course is to explore the complex intersections of race, place, and law. Our aim is to gain some understanding of geographies of race “on-the-ground” in real places, and of the role of legal practices—especially legal argument—in efforts to challenge and reinforce these racial geographies. We will ask, for example, how claims about responsibility, community, rationality, equality, justice, and democracy have been used to justify or resist both racial segregation and integration, access and expulsion. In short, we will ask how moral argument and legal discourse have contributed to the formation of the geographies of race that we all inhabit. Much of our attention will be given to a legal-geographic exploration of African-American experiences. But we will also look at how race, place and the law have shaped the distinctive experiences of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, January 2021, Fall 2023

110 Introduction to Legal Theory

This course provides an introduction to the primary texts and central problems of modern legal theory. Through close study of the field’s founding and pivotal works, we will weigh and consider various ways to think about questions that every study, practice, and institution of law eventually encounters. These questions concern law’s very nature or essence; its relations to knowledge, morality, religion, and the passions; the status of its language and interpretations; its relation to force and the threat of force; and its place and function in the preservation and transformation of political, social and economic order.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

132 Legal Science Fiction

(Offered as LJST 132 and SWAG 132) Science fiction conjures novel social arrangements in which questions of law inevitably emerge. Is a very smart robot just property? How should space be governed? If we can predict future crimes, can we punish future “criminals”? The answers to these questions are rooted in theories of what makes “the good society” and prompt us to think about how our own laws function with, against, or under the influence of scientific inquiry. In this course, we will consider how the speculative imagination approaches topics like civil rights, criminal law, labor, reproduction, corporate regulation, privacy, and property, analyzing science fiction texts and films alongside legal cases and theories of justice. Today, we regularly encounter legal conundrums that once seemed futuristic. Genetic engineering threatens the traditional framework of equality that provides the basis of rights. Algorithms, once thought to be a way to resolve race and gender biases, instead encode these biases into our everyday lives. How we order and improve human life is always a matter of legal concern, but regulation is often seen as anathema to technological progress. Why is this the case? Can this tension be resolved?

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

136 Law Between Plato and Poets

Ancient tragedy, ancient comedy, and Platonic political philosophy pose very different questions about the essence and basis of law, and about law’s relation to such matters as conflict, politics, guilt, love, suffering, action, justice, and wisdom. This course is a preliminary study of the relationships between these differing modes of inquiry. We will spend the first half of the course outlining the theories of law that govern select dramatic works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes. In the second half of the course, we will trace the intricate way these theories are at once incorporated into and rejected by Platonic political philosophy, as exemplified by Plato’s Republic. Along the way, we shall weigh and consider competing versions of the “return to Plato” in contemporary philosophy. In addition to reading key works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Plato, we will read contemporary texts by Giorgio Agamben, Danielle Allen, Alain Badiou, Hans-Georg Gadamer, René Girard, Martin Heidegger, Bonnie Honig, Bernard Knox, Nicole Loraux, Ramona Naddaff, Martha Nussbaum, Jacques Rancière, Leo Strauss, Jean-Pierre Vernant, and Simone Weil.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2019

143 Law's History

This course examines the ways in which historical thinking and imagining operate in the domain of law. History and law are homologous and tightly linked. Law in various guises uses history as its backbone, as a lens through which to view and adjudicate tangled moral problems, and as a means of proof in rendering judgment. Questions of history and precedent are integral to an understanding of the way language and rhetoric operate in the very creation of legal doctrine. Moreover, law’s use of history also has a history of its own, and our present understanding of the relationship between the two is a product of Enlightenment thinking. Conceiving of history as one kind of “narrative of the real,” in this course we will explore the premises that underlie history’s centrality to law as we inquire after the histories that law demands, creates, and excludes, as well as the ways in which law understands and uses history to seek finality, and to legitimize its authority.

Limited to 40 students. Spring Semester. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

206 Apartheid

(Offered as LJST 206 and BLST 307) The goal of this course will be to understand some of the problems posed for legal studies in the humanities by the emergence of the system of administrative and constitutional law known as apartheid. This system, which was designed to institute “separate development for separate peoples” in South Africa, is widely and rightly regarded to be among the most inhuman régimes of the twentieth century. Yet even and especially today, more than a decade after its formal end in South Africa, apartheid’s social, economic, and epistemic conditions of possibility, as well as the place and function of lawyers, legal discourse, and legal scholars in the resistance to it, remains at best vaguely understood.

This course is designed to remedy this gap. Our inquiry will be at once specific and general. Under what economic and political conditions did apartheid come into being? What legal traditions and practices authorized its codification? What academic disciplines and intellectual formations rendered it intelligible and enabled its theorization? What specific arrangement of juridical institutions, practices, and theories together comprised the apartheid state? What was the place and function of law in the critique of and resistance to apartheid? What new and specific problems did apartheid pose for legal theory?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Fall 2019

208 Action, Labor, Law

This course takes the recent resurgence of the American Labor Movement as an occasion for an extended case study in the relation between law, labor, and action.  Our understanding of the relation between law and action is structured by a persistent opposition: if it is action that ushers in the new against the constraints of existing law, then it is law which is called upon to protect what is worth protecting of the existing order and to avoid the sometimes destructive character of action.  And yet this story always risks displacing another crucial set of theoretical and historical questions: how might political actors use the law to give effect to democratic transformation, to bolster rather than constrain such transformation over time?  What role might law play, beyond conservative stabilization, in allowing such changes to endure and become embedded in the shared world? We will consider these conceptual questions in relation to this history of labor jurisprudence and politics in the US. What is the legal history of labor movements, unions, and organizations, and how has pro- and anti-labor sentiment influenced American jurisprudence? How should we evaluate labor rights in relation to other legal rights? What are the relations between established unions, independent or wildcat organizing, and the State? How have economic transformations created new tensions, possibilities, and juridical forms in the relation between law and the labor movement?  Are there limits to labor as a paradigm of action? We will study these questions in their intersection with the jurisprudence of early industrial capitalism and chattel slavery, the reconfiguration of the regulatory state under Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the World Wars, the rise of neoliberal capitalism, the politics of socialism and the Cold War, and recent transformations in the care economy.

Sample reading list: Aristotle, Rosa Luxemburg, Revolutionary Hangover”; W.E.B. Du Bois, Hannah Arendt, Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King Jr, James A. Gross, Jacques Ranciere,  David Scott; Elisabeth Wood; Saidiya Hartman; Erin Pineda; Eva von Redecker.

Limited to 30 students. Spring Semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2024

209 The Psychic Lives of Power

The French philosopher Michel Foucault has famously argued that mental illness is a juridical question of the first order, not only because the “mad” are on the receiving end of abuses of power, but also because madness constantly makes claims back to law, throwing into question its most basic precepts.  This course will take up this claim in relation to the making of the legal subject, the formation of legal institutions, and the work of social transformation.  We will also consider how taking pathology seriously as a critical form, drawing on feminist and disability studies, might allow us to throw into question that which is often normalized through law, for example the purported solidity and desirability of the patriarchal family, or the productivity of capitalist labor.  In the last third of the course, we will take the project of decolonial psychiatry as an extended case study in the relation between psychic forms and legal and political struggles.

Thinkers include Sigmund Freud, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, François Tosquelles, Frantz Fanon, Peter Goodrich, Judge Schreber, Theodor Adorno, Bonnie Honig, Gilles Deleuze, Camille Robcis, Danielle Carr, and Kathi Weeks.  We will also draw on literary examples and scenes from film.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

212 Psychoanalysis and Law

Although psychoanalysis is not usually considered a part of the discipline of jurisprudence, its theories allow for comprehensive answers to the fundamental questions of jurisprudence, and its lexicon permits us to refer with clarity and precision to realities of juridical experience about which disciplinary jurisprudence remains silent. Psychoanalysis interprets law within a field defined by the vicissitudes and impasses of unconscious desire, giving us a way to speak about the pathologies that are constitutive of law’s normal operation, and this amounts, in effect if not in name, to a jurisprudence as compelling as it is unorthodox. At the same time, however, psychoanalysis also has been constrained, at key points in its history, by some of the very juridical forms and forces it seeks to analyze and to question, sometimes even to the point where those forms and forces have reappeared, internalized, within its own most basic theories and practices. If psychoanalysis allows for a comprehensive theory of law, so too then can law serve as an exemplary point of departure for the rethinking of psychoanalysis itself. The purpose of this course will be to pursue this twofold inquiry. After tracing the way that law emerges as a question within the thinking of Sigmund Freud, and considering the ways in which certain juridical problems and events are prior to and generative of Freud’s thought, we then will explore the various ways in which post-Freudian thinkers have not only applied but also rethought Freudian psychoanalysis in their own studies of law.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2017

214 What's So Great About (In)Equality?

(Offered as LJST 214 and EDST 214) In our world, commitment to "equality" in one sense/form or another is nearly uncontested. At the same time, the form that it should take, its normative ground, scope, limits and conditions, the ways in which it may be realized, and much else are deeply contested. It is also the case that the world in which we live is characterized by profound, enduring and intensifying inequalities and numerous exceptions to the principle. These may be justified with reference to various countervailing commitments that are accorded ethical or practical priority (desert, liberty, efficiency, political stability, ecological integrity, pluralism, etc.). This suggests that while for many "equality" may be normatively compelling, its realization may be subordinated to any number of interests and desires; or, to put it bluntly, there may be such a condition as too much equality or not enough inequality, privilege and "disadvantage." This course treats these themes as they have arisen in distinctively legal contexts, projects and arguments. It will engage a range of debates within political philosophy and legal theory as to the appropriate limits of equality. While many forms and expressions of inequality have fallen into relative disfavor, some seem virtually immune to significant amelioration. Among these are those associated with social-economic class. Following general investigations of egalitarianism and anti-egalitarianism in social thought and legal history, we will devote closer attention to the legal dimensions of class inequality in contexts such as labor law, welfare and poverty law, education and criminal justice. We will conclude with an examination of the limits of legal egalitarianism vis-à-vis international class-based inequalities under conditions of globalization and cosmopolitan humanitarianism.

Limited to 30 students. Spring Semester 2023. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2023

217, 317 Thinking Law with Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s texts put into play an intricate set of juridical terms and forms. The premise of this course is that we can retrieve from this “putting into play” a unique way of thinking about modern juridical order at the moment of its inception. Through the close reading of four texts, we will trace the composition of some of the most fundamental problems of modern Anglophone jurisprudence (such as person and impersonation, inheritance and usurpation, contract and oath, tyranny and sovereignty, pardon and mercy, matrimony and patrimony, and civil war and empire, marriage and divorce). The aim of this inquiry will not be to apply jurisprudence to Shakespeare’s texts. Nor will it be to use Shakespeare’s texts to humanize a legal training that otherwise would risk remaining sterile and unfeeling. Nor, finally, will it be either to historicize Shakespeare's texts (limiting them to a particular place and time) or else to universalize those texts (treating them as the exemplar for humanity as such). It will be to treat Shakespeare’s texts as an occasion to rethink the genesis and basis of the modern Anglophone jurisprudence that we inherit today in a specifically globalized form.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Sitze.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2024

221 Law and Waste

The term "waste" is used so widely in common parlance that it hardly seems necessary to consider its meaning. Yet, it is not always clear who has the authority to decide what is useful or efficient, and what is waste. This course takes up this problem of authority and examines how different concepts of waste relate to the law. “Waste” historically has been linked to the legal right to own and manage property. But the determination of whether an act, a thing, or a person is "waste" has implications not only for private law, but for public laws regulating labor, health and welfare, education, global trade, and the environment. Descriptions of certain bodies, cultures and lands in terms of waste justify exploitation and violence by states and other powerful actors. How do we reconcile the imperative to avoid waste with the demands of order and justice? We will look closely at this question as we consider the social and legal construction of waste.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

222 Code

In its earliest uses, the word “code” belonged to jurisprudence: the twelve books of the Justinian Code, for example, contained a systematic compilation of the laws, statutes, and regulations governing the citizens and subjects of the Roman Empire. Today, by contrast, the word belongs increasingly to computer science: to speak of “code” is largely to speak of the symbols and rules that structure the ways in which information is stored, transmitted, processed, retrieved, and expressed. This course examines the history of this transformation and asks about its implications for jurisprudence today. How have new information technologies changed the way we think about such basic juridical concepts as person, property, contract, and crime? Conversely, what new and different understandings of these technologies become possible once we understand them not simply as tools, but as juridical forms governing the conduct of individuals and populations alike? By studying controversies in cyberlaw together with works of legal and critical theory, this course will ask how we might rethink the place and function of information technology in contemporary life.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014

224 Experiments in Legal and Cultural Production

The idea of law as experimental runs counter to the common view of law as well settled and historically rooted. Yet, under the federal system in the United States, states have long been regarded as "laboratories" for law. Moreover, Supreme Court decisions arise as “test cases” that painstakingly mix plaintiffs, procedures, and venues and are timed to move law in a hoped-for direction. What is a test case but a kind of experiment? This course examines legal experiments alongside experimental aesthetic works. Convention may “govern” art and literature, but both are also regulated by real laws, like copyright and obscenity. When artists go beyond the norms of their fields, they may also test the limits of the law. Artistic experimentation can suggest new ways to think about property, identity, sex, work, power, and language. How are different forms of experimentation connected? How do they challenge or extend our visions of what society might be otherwise?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2033-23.  Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2023

226 Critical Legal Geographies

The spatiality of social life is a fundamental element of human existence, not least through its involvement with power of various sorts. Spatiality is also a significant—and problematic—dimension of law (think of sovereignty, jurisdiction, citizenship). At the same time, law is a significant force through which spatiality is produced, reinforced, contested and transformed. Law literally constitutes social spaces through constitutions, treaties, statutes, contracts, modes of surveillance and policing, and so on. As it does so, it constitutes itself as a force in the world. Law may also be an arena in which other social-spatial conflicts are played out and, provisionally, resolved. The course will consider both the changing spatiality of law (its scope, scale, limits; its vectors and circuits) and the changing legal constitution of other social spaces. This will be done through an engagement with contemporary socio-spatial and legal theories and through a survey of exemplary events and situations. Among the more specific topics we will consider are privacy and property; public space of speech and dissent; migration, displacement and sanctuary; colonialism and occupation. The contexts of our study will not be limited to/by American law but will include examples involving international law, forms of legal pluralism, and other legal-cultural contexts. The course will conclude with an investigation of globalization and the emergence of cyberspace and their posited effects on the very possibility of law as we have come to understand and experience it.

 Limited to 30 students.Omitted 2022-23. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2021

227 Sustainability and the Fate of Law: Can Law Save the World?

Most people are aware that "the world" (the sum of planetary environmental systems) is changing in ways that are already generating dramatic and largely negative consequences for "the world" (Earth as the home of Life) and that the trajectories of change presage even greater instability. Since the blossoming of environmentalism a half-century ago, those most concerned and involved in responding to these challenges have recognized that a robust engagement with law is required for reversing or mitigating these changes. This has resulted in a massive body of environmental law from local land use regulations to national environmental regulatory regimes and international conventions. While some of this has been effective, the velocity of global political, economic and cultural change appears to undermine or render ineffective many legal interventions. As scientists revise predictions regarding the severity and rate of environmental degradation, doubts have been raised about the sufficiency or capacity of existing law to respond appropriately. This course undertakes a broad, critical examination of the role of law in promoting and perhaps impeding environmental sustainability and asks what this reveals about the possibilities and limits of law. It begins by posing such questions as: Does "sustainability" entail sacrifice? If so, what role do distinctively legal practices and institutions play in giving effect to such sacrifices? Might something that we feel is fundamental to law itself need to be sacrificed? Following a brief survey of key aspects of existing environmental law, in which we assess what has and has not worked, we will engage a range of recent arguments in environmental legal theory (such as earth justice, wild law, green legal theory) which ask us to rethink what we want—or need—law to be.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2022

228 Police Power

Demands to reform, defund, or abolish the police have a long history, even as contemporary calls to curb law enforcement are hotly debated. Some worry that demands for radical changes to policing spell political doom. Others hope they toll the final bell for racism. And some think even minor cuts to police will trigger a Hobbesian “war of all against all.” What is the relationship between the police and what jurists name “police power”: the state's legal authority over public health and welfare? How did this relationship originate, and how has it changed? What does it look like outside of the US? What other social and economic factors intersect with law in debates over the redistribution and transformation of police power? Can the US continue without police as we know them? We will examine these questions using cases and statutory law, critical race and feminist scholarship, political theory, and literary and visual culture to guide our inquiry.

Limited to 36 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

230, 330 Law, Speech, and the Politics of Freedom

In the United States, the idea of free speech is held to be both a political and moral ideal. The First Amendment makes freedom of speech a centerpiece of liberal democratic values and processes, and thus of American identity itself. But what, precisely, do we mean when we link the ideas of freedom and speech? What kinds of speech, and what kinds of freedom, are implicated in that linkage? Correlatively, what does it mean to "censor"? Drawing upon political philosophy, literary theory, court cases, imaginative writing, and examples from contemporary culture, this course will explore the multiple meanings of "free speech," their legal regulation, and their deployment in American public culture. Why should we value "free" speech? Who do we imagine to be the speaker whose speech ought to be free: the man on the soapbox? The political protestor? The media conglomerate? The anonymous chat-room inhabitant? What does it mean to say that various kinds of speech may be dangerous, and under what conditions might it be conceivable to shut down or regulate dangerous speech, or conversely to promote "politically correct" speech in either formal or informal ways? How do speech forms (for example, parody, poetry, or reportage) differ, and should some garner more legal protection than others? Can silence be considered a kind of speech?

 Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

231 Social Movements and Social Change

This course examines social movements (and related phenomena) as integral elements of legal orders and as significant sources of legal transformations. Through interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and historical analyses, the course will explore the ways in which non-state actors engage formal legal institutions to shape or reform law, in order to affect the conditions of social life. Of particular interest are not merely desired changes in laws but resultant changes in the culture of law more broadly. The course will draw on a wide range of movements (historical and contemporary; “progressive” and conservative; broad-based and narrowly focused; American and non-American; local, national and global; North and South; activist and bureaucratic; from “below” and from “within”; etc.) and study two or three in closer detail. The over-arching objective is to achieve a richer understanding of both the inner workings of “the law” and the dynamic life of law outside of formal institutions.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

235 Law's Nature: Humans, the Environment and the Predicament of Law

“Nature” is at once among the most basic of concepts and among the most ambiguous. Law is often called upon to clarify the meaning of nature. In doing so it raises questions about what it means to be human.

This course is organized around three questions. First, what does law as a humanistic discipline say about nature? Second, what can law’s conception of nature tell us about shifting conceptions of humanness? Third, what can we learn by attending to these questions about law’s own situation in the world and its ability to tell us who we are? We will address these questions by starting with the environment (specifically wilderness). We will then expand our view of nature by examining legal engagements with animals (endangered species, animals in scientific experiments, and pets), human bodies (reproductive technologies, involuntary biological alterations, the right to die) and brains (genetic or hormonal bases for criminal defenses). Throughout, we will focus our attention on the themes of knowledge, control and change. We will look, for example, at relationships between legal and scientific forms of knowledge and the problematic role of expert knowledge in adjudicating normative disputes. We will also look at law’s response to radical, technologically induced changes in relations between humans and nature, and to arguments in favor of limiting such transformations.

 Limited to 30 students.Omitted 2022-23.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2024

238 Contract Cultures

Do contracts always involve a “meeting of minds”? Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called that commonplace a fiction. But, whether it is or not, real contracts continue to proliferate. We might even call some cultures contractual. This course considers this idea by examining different forms of contract: from the reciprocated gift and the social compact to “boilerplate” and “click-to-agree" terms of service. We will discuss how contracts came to be, how they work now, and what could be their future. Contracts are mundane, yet powerful tools. They are said to endow personhood but can also deny agency. They can alter or displace law, making and unmaking whole social frameworks. What happens when common narratives of contract enter the realm of cultural production? Who bears the costs of misalignments between the law of contract and social norms? Are there such things as sexual, racial, or constitutional contracts? Do we make contracts, or do contracts make us?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019

248 Law And War

This course explores the effort to control the violence and chaos of war with legal rules and processes. With classic theorists of war, such as Vattel, Clausewitz, Schmitt and Michael Walzer as our guides, and drawing our examples from conflict zones such as Vietnam, Kosovo, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq, we will ask whether the law of armed conflict has “civilized” the waging of war or simply serves as another tool in the arsenal of armed conflict.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Douglas.

253 Arendt's Judgments

Fearlessly independent, tenaciously unclassifiable, frequently controversial, and always thought-provoking, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is without question one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Setting aside the conventional interpretation of Arendt as a political theorist, this course will focus on Arendt’s contributions to the study of law, with special attention to Arendt’s unusual inquiries into human rights, international criminal law, constitutional law, and civil disobedience. By carefully reading select writings by Arendt alongside key events in twentieth century history, we shall trace in Arendt’s texts a relation between thought, crisis, and judgment that is often occluded by the dominant reception of her thought. Along the way, we shall ask how Arendt arrived at her various judgments, what it means for thought to relate to law and to the world, and why judgment might offer a way to respond to, and live through, the crises of one’s present.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Sitze.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Spring 2025

255 Community and Immunity: Law, Ethics, and Biopolitics

From state security apparatuses to public health initiatives, modern legal orders are governed by the claim that law’s greatest good is to keep human communities safe and sound—unscathed by harm, secure against threats and contagions, and as immune as possible to everything that threatens life. This claim, however, owes its genesis and basis to a set of unstable philosophical and theological premises that not only precede modern legal orders but also, at times, threaten to undo those orders from within. Taken to its logical conclusion, after all, our growing contemporary demand for protections of health and safety seems to be in tension with longstanding democratic principles of equality, liberty, dignity, tolerance, and due process. Today, under conditions of democratic decline, it’s more important than ever to understand the legal and ethical dilemmas generated by this dialectic of immunity and community. That will be the purpose of this class. In it, we shall consider a range of thinkers who inquire into the way that theories and practices of biopolitical immunity at once regulate and undermine liberal democratic communities. In the process, we shall focus on two of the twenty-first century’s most acute expressions of this dialectic: (1) the relation between the jurisprudence of emergency and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; and (2) the relation between the science of public health and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

260 Feminist Legal Theory

In the twentieth century, American feminist movements made significant strides in securing suffrage, formal equality under the law, reproductive justice, and the possibility of economic independence through paid labor.  And yet, the entry of (some) women into the public sphere has only intensified the urgency of a series of underlying questions: Is it desirable to demand legal transformations in the name of the identity “woman,” and if so, how should we incorporate considerations of gender and queerness, class, race, ability, and nationality? What is the relation between the formal emancipation of some women and intensified forms of domination of other women, for example, in the sphere of care work? What are the histories, logics, and political economies of these relations?  What is the family, what is its relationship to reproduction, and how should its legal attachments, obligations, and relationships be understood from a feminist perspective? How did individual choice become the privileged legal mechanism for feminist forms of freedom and what is the status of choice today? We will aim to develop our understanding of these distinct but deeply linked questions of feminist thinking and methodology, with an emphasis on American writers and their postcololonial and anti-racist critics, and to appreciate conflicting points of view and longer histories within these debates.

Thinkers include Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Aleksandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Betty Friedan, Catherine Mackinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Shulamith Firestone, Adrianne Rich, Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Eve Sedgewick, Sylvia Federici, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Donna Haraway, Hortense Spillers, Patricia J. Williams, Judith Butler, Kim TallBear, José Muñoz, Melinda Cooper, Sophie Lewis, M.E. O’Brian, and Amia Srinivasan, as well as materials from intersectional movements and jurisprudence that demanded legal and more-than-legal transformation, including the Atlanta Washer Women Strike of 1881, the Jane Collective, Wages for Housework, the Combahee River Collective, ACT-UP, INCITE!, sex worker unions, and the #MeToo movement.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

284 The Death Sentence

The political, economic, and philosophical figure of the “death sentence,” although it has archaic roots, continues to haunt the twenty-first century. Athens killed the philosopher Socrates because he was dangerous to the polis, and philosophy has enshrined this death sentence as both its mythical origin and its most modern moment. Having cut off the head of the king, French revolutionaries and their critics fiercely debated whether mercy or execution would better distance their new social order from repressive forms of monarchical sovereignty. The murder and vulnerability to premature death of Africans in the Atlantic Slave Trade and Native and indigenous peoples in the Americas underwrote and enabled the idea of the New World and its fraught and partial freedoms. Together we will inquire into the logics these stories, and their accompanying, often paradoxical, discourses (punishment, mercy; sovereignty, technique), have in common. Turning to contemporary theory, we will seek to understand the persistence of death sentences today.  Why does the state kill, and what can the persistence of such violence both as fact and idea tell us about the idea of the state? Why did “barbaric” practices not end with enlightenment, the critique of religion, scientific rationalism, legal modernization, capitalism? What is the relation between capital punishment and other death sentences meted out in and through prisons, policing, or pandemics?  In distinction from a course that debates American capital punishment primarily from a policy perspective, we will inquire into capital punishment as a problem for the history and writing of legal thought, inquiring after its persistence in philosophic terms and reconsidering the possible bases for abolitionist critique.

Limited to 30 students. Fall Semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2025

321 Law and Waste 

[Analytic Seminar] “Waste" is so widely used in common parlance that it hardly seems necessary to reconsider its meaning. Yet, it is not always apparent what principles determine what is use and what is waste, why, whom that determination affects, and how. This seminar will examine how different concepts of waste relate to law and authority. “Waste” in the common law is historically linked to land possession. But the law that determines whether an act, a thing, or even a person is “waste” has implications not solely for private property, but for due process, the environment, labor, finance, and the long history of colonization. Descriptions of bodies, cultures, and lands in terms of waste have legally justified exploitation and violence by states and powerful non-state actors, and have thus shaped our world. How do we reconcile the familiar imperative to avoid waste with modern demands for order and justice? We will look closely at this question as we explore the social and legal construction of waste. 

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

334 America's Death Penalty

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

341 Interpretation in Law & Literature

(Offered as LJST 341 [Analytic Seminar] and ENGL 310) Interpretation lies at the center of legal and literary activity. Both law and literature are in the business of making sense of texts—statutes, constitutions, poems or stories. Both disciplines confront similar questions regarding the nature of interpretive practice: Should interpretation always be directed to recovering the intent of the author? If we abandon intentionalism as a theory of textual meaning, how do we judge the "excellence" of our interpretations? How can the critic or judge continue to claim to read in an "authoritative" manner in the face of interpretive plurality? In the last few years, a remarkable dialogue has burgeoned between law and literature as both disciplines have grappled with life in a world in which "there are no facts, only interpretations." This seminar will examine contemporary theories of interpretation as they inform both legal and literary understandings. Readings will include works of literature (Hemingway, Kafka, Woolf) and court cases, as well as contributions by theorists of interpretation such as Spinoza, Dilthey, Freud, Geertz, Kermode, Dworkin, and Sontag.

Limited to 15 students. Open to juniors and seniors.Omitted 2022-23. Professor Douglas.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2020

346 Law's Classifications (Research Seminar)

(Research Seminar)  When courts decide cases, they engage in knowledge production, and so must use logical, enforceable classifications to distinguish among persons, things, and rights. Legal doctrines that enshrine these classifications may conflict with broader commitments to equality or tradition, even as they help remedy past injuries, protect existing rights, or create durable guidelines for the future. Such conflicts come into full view when these doctrines leave the courtroom and collide with other social forces and frameworks, like market rationality, medical science, political movements, or religious beliefs. How does law create its classifications? How do race, gender, class and other social identities intersect with them? What external taxonomies are invoked in their making, and to what ends? By attending to the ways law’s classifications are developed, used, resisted or changed, we will come to see the law’s internal tensions, its civic limits, and its social power.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

349 Law and Love

[Analytic Seminar] (Offered as LJST 349 and SWAGS 349) At first glance, law and love seem to tend in opposing directions: where law is constituted in rules and regularity, love emerges in contingent, surprising, and ungovernable ways; where law speaks in the language of reason, love’s language is of sentiment and affect; where law regulates society through threats of violence, love binds with a magical magnetism. In this seminar, placing materials in law and legal theory alongside theoretical and imaginative work on the subject of love, we invert that premise of opposition in order to look for love’s place in law and law’s in love. First we will inquire into the ways in which laws regulate love, asking how is love constituted and arranged by those regulations, and on what grounds it escapes them. In that regard we will explore, among other areas, the problematics of passion in criminal law and laws regulating sexuality, marriage, and family. Second we will ask, how does love in its various guises (as philia, eros, or agape) manifest itself in law and legal theory, and indeed partly constitute law itself? Here we will explore, for example, sovereign exercises of mercy, the role of equity in legal adjudication, and the means that bind legal subjects together in social contract theory. Finally, we will explore an analogy drawn by W. H. Auden, asking how law is like love, and by extension love like law. How does attending to love’s role in law, and law’s in love, shift our imaginings of both?

 Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester.  Professor Umphrey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

350 American Legal Theory

(Analytic Seminar) The discipline of legal theory has the task of making law meaningful to itself. But there is a variety of competing legal theories that can make law meaningful in divergent ways. By what measure are we to assess their adequacy? Is internal coherence the best standard or should legal theory strive to accord with the extra-legal world? Then too, the institutions and practices of law are components of social reality and, therefore, as amenable to sociological or cultural analysis as any other component. Here again, many different kinds of sense can be made of law depending upon how “the social” is itself theorized. This course engages the theme of law and the problems of social reality by way of a three-step approach. The first part of the course presents an overview of the main lines of twentieth-century American legal thought. We begin with a study of legal formalism and the challenges posed to it by legal realism and its various successor theories. One focus of debate between formalism and its rivals is how much social realism should be brought to bear on legal analysis. Another question is: what kind of social realism should be brought to bear on the analysis of law? The second segment of the course provides a survey of some of the candidates. These include the Law and Society Movement, neo-Marxism and Critical Legal Studies. In the final segment we look at how these theoretical issues are given expression in connection with more practical contexts such as poverty law, labor law or criminal law.

 Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students.Omitted 2022-23. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

352 Film, Myth, and the Law

[Analytic Seminar] The proliferation of law in film, on television, and online has expanded the sphere of legal life itself. Law lives in images which today saturate our culture and which have a power all their own, and the moving image provides a domain in which legal power operates independently of law’s formal institutions. This course takes up law and film to explore law’s image and the imagined life of law. It will consider the ways “myths” about law are reproduced and contested in film and other visual media, and the way film proposes a visual aesthetics of law. We will ask what happens when legal events are re-narrated in film and examine the treatment of legal officials, events, and institutions (e.g. police, lawyers, judges, trials, executions, prisons), discussing how that treatment positions them in relation to processes of judgment, interpretation, and violence. Attending to the visual dimensions and dynamics of law’s imagined lives as well as to the viewer’s relation to law on film we will also explore the ways in which law provides a template for film spectatorship, positioning viewers as detectives and as jurors. Does film open up new possibilities of judgment, model new modes of interpretation, and provide new insights into law’s violence?

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professors Umphrey and Sarat.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2016, Fall 2021

355 Animals: Law, Ethics, Biopolitics (Research Seminar)

(Offered as LJST 355) (Research Seminar)  The treatment and legal status of animals has often provided a rich resource for legal theory. Jeremy Bentham famously yoked the denial of rights to animals with pro-slavery arguments in order to argue that the basis of rights was not the shape of the body or the level of intelligence but the capacity to feel pain. Since then a considerable literature on animal rights and the nascent field of animal studies has emerged. This course covers many of these debates but goes further, asking what are the historically contingent grounds on which humans relate to animals? Such a perspective draws us to consider the contingency of moral arguments and the changing structures of sovereignty and legal personality.  Finally, in a world where at least a billion people have been reduced to what Giorgio Agamben calls "bare life," how do global capitalism and biopolitics shape our contemporary conceptions of human and animal?  Readings include Sunstein and Nussbaum, Animal Rights, Jonathon Safran Foer, Eating Animals, Giorgio Agamben, The Open: man and animal, J. M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello.

This writing-attentive seminar operates on twin tracks.  Over the course of the semester, students will identify, research, write and revise a topic resulting in a 30-page paper.  At the same time, weekly assignments will not only probe content but also focus on style.  What constitutes a piece of evidence in a research project?  How do writers make choices in the construction of sentences and paragraphs? 

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016

356 Judging Genocide

(Research Seminar) This seminar will address some of the foundational questions posed by radical evil to the legal imagination. How have jurists attempted to understand the causes and logic of genocide, and the motives of its perpetrators? Is it possible to “do justice” to such extreme crimes? Is it possible to grasp the complexities of history in the context of criminal trial? What are the special challenges and responsibilities facing those who struggle to submit traumatic history to legal judgment? We will consider these questions by focusing specifically on a range of legal responses to the crimes of the Holocaust. Our examination will be broadly interdisciplinary, as we compare the efforts of jurists to master the problems of representation and judgment posed by extreme crimes with those of historians, social theorists, and artists. Readings will include original material from the Nuremberg, Eichmann, and Irving trials, and works by, among others, Hannah Arendt, Zygmunt Bauman, Christopher Browning, Primo Levi, and Art Spiegelman.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Douglas.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

357 Property, Liberty and Law

(Research Seminar) What we call property is enormously important in establishing the nature of a legal regime. Moreover, an exploration of property offers a window on how a culture sees itself. Examining how property notions are used and modified in practice can also provide critical insights into many aspects of social history and contemporary social reality.

We will begin our discussion of property by treating it as an open-ended cluster of commonplace and more specialized notions (e.g., owner, gift, lease, estate) used to understand and shape the world. We will look at how the relation of property to such values as privacy, security, citizenship and justice has been understood in political and legal theory and how different conceptions of these relations have entered into constitutional debates. We will also study the relationship of property and the self (How might one’s relation to property enter into conceptions of self? Do we “own” ourselves? Our bodies or likenesses? Our thoughts?), property and everyday life (How are conceptions of property used to understand home, work and community?) and property and culture, (Do our conceptions of property influence understandings of cultural differences between ourselves and others? Does it make sense to claim ownership over one’s ancestors?). In sum, this course will raise questions about how property shapes our understandings of liberty, personhood, agency and power.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

374 Rights

(See POSC 374)

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Independent work under the guidance of a tutor assigned by the Department. Open to senior LJST majors who wish to pursue a self-defined project in reading and writing and to work under the close supervision of a faculty member.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

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