Spring 2008

Law, Crime and Culture

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-34


Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


Crime and criminality are the sites where law most directly and forcefully intervenes in everyday life through ritual and spectacle, through the construction of boundaries that include or exclude certain kinds of behavior or types of individuals from the social polity, and through direct physical violence and the containment of bodies. Focusing mainly but not exclusively on the United States, this course will explore, both historically and theoretically, the ways in which crime and criminality have been imagined, enacted, and punished. Drawing heavily on the work of Michel Foucault, we will explore the historical changes, continuities and contradictions visible in various imaginings of the relationship between the state, the criminal, and the public. We will consider the significance of shifting modes of punishment, from a spectacle of pain to incarceration behind the high walls of the penitentiary. We will also examine various theories of criminality and inquire into their cultural assumptions and consequences as they have gained and lost legitimacy over time. Whom do we hold legally or morally responsible for criminal acts? Can criminal activity be explained as product of vice, or an imperfect body, or the social environment? How does popular culture encode various representations of criminality? Requisite: LJST 01 or 10 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Second semester. Professor Umphrey.