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Law & Culture

The study of law and culture explores complex connections between law and society from a social science perspective. This approach, which complements the aims of pre-law programs and law schools across the United States, centers upon theorizing the relationship of law to the broader dimensions of everyday life. Rather than conceiving of the law as a set of pre-established rules, division fellows focus upon the ways in which societies are organized in relationship to law. Some of the central questions of the field include the following: How is law experienced in everyday life, beyond formal institutions? How do individuals rely upon law and regulation to live with one another? How might law be understood as a cultural formation, reflecting and embodying the debates, divisions, and anxieties of the societies in which it exists? How do law and legal institutions constrain and empower actors and silence and construct identities built around the vectors of citizenship, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, disability, etc.? How is law a transformative force in the lives of others, both empowering and destroying?

As we experience a proliferation of law and legal regulation across societies, law plays a more pervasive and complex role in social and political life. The study of law and culture opens up a space for exploring law’s possibilities and limits by emphasizing it as something more than a system of rules: it is a language, an order, an institution, a process, a force, and a contest. In short, it is alive.

Representative Publications

  • Brown, Michelle. “‘Which Question? Which Lie?’: Reflections on Payne v. Tennessee and the ‘Quick Glimpse’ of Life.” Ed. Austin Sarat, The Punitive Imagination, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2014.
  • Brown, Michelle. 2014 “Of Prisons, Gardens, and the Way Out.” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Special issue: The Beautiful Prison), 64:67-85.
  • Brown, Michelle. 2009. The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society, and Spectacle. New York: New York University Press.
  • Brown, Michelle. 2005. “‘Setting the Conditions’ for Abu Ghraib: The Prison Nation Abroad,” American Quarterly, 57, 3 (Special Issue: Legal Borderlands: Law and the Construction of American Borders), 973-997.

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