Spring 2023

Action, Labor, Law

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-208


Nica M. Siegel (Section 01)


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.

How to handle overenrollment: Priority will be given to LJST majors

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Students who enroll in this class will build skills in seminar discussion, close reading, analytic reading across genres, and historical the theoretical writing.

LJST 208 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 2:30 PM - 3:50 PM CHAP 201
Th 2:30 PM - 3:50 PM CHAP 201


Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2024