Thursday, January 1, 2009

Envisioning Jurisculture

Law is embedded in every facet of our many cultures, although its visibility is often not as universal. By law, we are not simply referring to the hard law constructed by national and sub-national governments and enforced by state actors or to international law, with the many actors and enforcement mechanisms it embodies. Certainly, national and international law form part of our conception of law, but simply regarding these forms of law as the sole norms that govern states and society is to ignore the richness of law which surrounds us. Indeed, in a practical sense, societies and individuals are governed by many normative legal structures that regulate their quotidian existence. This includes norms that, while not emanating from the state, have an impact (and perhaps a more substantial impact) on human conduct and behavior - e.g. rules of the family household, norms that regulate conduct and behavior in the workplace and/or other institutional settings like school and universities. Human beings, however, are not simply receptacles that receive legal norms and obey them. Some have a broader vision or concept of what a norm or set of norms ought to be in given circumstances and, accordingly, take steps to project their visions into the public sphere in a variety of ways. One frequent and extremely ubiquitous way to transmit these visions is through popular cultural mediums such as film, television, music, literature, news media, and other creative and/or otherwise communicative mediums.

Facts and narratives are at the heart of many cultural mediums. Whether in the form of a song, book, or film, the framing of a story and the deftness of the story’s narration provides the recipient of the medium with the ability to understand the medium itself. Similarly, in many legal cultures, law is fundamentally understood within a specific factual context and transmitted through narrative – including judicial and quasi-judicial decisions. Again, it is the use of facts and narration to provide a frame within which the intended audience receives the law that is so crucial to understanding the law. Alter the facts and one potentially ends up with a different legal rule or result. Similarly, alter the facts of the underlying story and the Barber of Seville becomes La Traviata.

While there are no shortage of television shows, films and/or other mediums that deal with the practice of law and how law is exercised and applied, our goal here is to look at law more broadly and how norms play a regulatory and advisory role in everyday life. This might include observing how rules of conduct may be created and extrapolated from the conduct of individuals. Imagine, for example, a television episode that displays a manager's proper or improper handling of an incident constituting sexual harassment in the workplace without ever dealing with a litigation that could arise from such facts. In so doing, the television program still engages in legal storytelling and conveys something about what norms should or should not be pursued.

Accordingly this blog will examine how law is presented, understood, constructed, and interpreted (or certainly misinterpreted) through a transmission of facts transmitted in these cultural mediums. While some cultural productions simply reflect the status quo, others seek to (re)imagine law more dynamically. Additionally, other productions are directly involved in the crafting of a suggested solution to legal and socio-legal problems in such a way that the audience is barely aware of the suggestions being made. These productions will be discussed and analyzed as part of the blog. Although new forms of media – and the use of media – are constantly emerging, this blog will also examine the ways in which cultural and popular media have been related to and are reflective of law throughout history as well.

Alexandra R. Harrington and Amar Khoday

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