Spring 2012

Law and Social Relations: Persons, Identities and Groups

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-224

Formerly listed as: LJST-24


Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


One of the foundational analytics governing law’s relationship to identity and personhood is the grand trope of public and private. As an historical matter, the public/private divide has demarcated the boundary of law’s authority: under a liberal theory of government, law may regulate relations in the public sphere but must leave the private realm in the control of individuals. The stakes associated with this line of demarcation are extremely high: those problems of identity and relation that are considered “public” are problems visible to law and subject to law’s authority; those that are considered private remain below the horizon of law’s gaze. Yet definitions of the public and the private are notoriously slippery and inexact, and their contours are inexorably on a train as an African-American, or a license to practice law as a white woman, was to experience a kind of discrimination that the law would refuse to see. In the twentieth century we no longer experience such officially-sanctioned harms but remain conflicted about the extent to which law should address other, more “private” interactions: verbal bigotry, family relations, sex.

This course will trace and explore the modes by which the public/private divide constitutes identities in law by examining the ways law defines the public, and does or does not regulate ostensibly “private” harms. Using both legal and non-legal texts we will map a history of social relations, particularly as they implicated deeply held assumptions about racialized, gendered, and sexualized bodies, and explore the shifting boundary between public and private as it has emerged in public debates over the meaning of equality, privacy, and free speech. To what extent does law’s authority remain constituted upon the public/private divide? To what extent are we now witnessing the redefinition, even the virtual elimination, of the private? And with what consequences for our social relations?

Requisite: LJST 101 or 110 or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 30 students. Spring semester.  Professor Umphrey.

If Overenrolled: Upper class students will be given preference.

Cost: 60.00 ?


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2012