Book cover for 'Lives in the Law'
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Lives in the Law

Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas, and Martha Merrill Umphrey, Editors
Examines how the lives of individuals, social groups, and nations are fashioned by their engagement with the law


Lives in the Law maps various ways that law enters the lives of individuals, groups, and nations, and contributes to the more general effort to theorize what a life in the law entails. While the essays begin in different locations—some obviously inside the law, some seemingly removed from it—together they highlight law's various and contingent presence in lives and life stories.

In the first essay, Pnina Lahav presents a study of the Chicago Seven Trial to paint a picture of the law's power to serve as a site for the definition of a collective group identity. In contrast, Sarah Barringer Gordon focuses on the experience of an individual legal subject, namely, the defendant in the Hester Vaughn trial, a notorious nineteenth-century case of infanticide.

An essay by Frank Munger looks at how law constructs the identity of women and explores the strategies by which poor women resist the law's construction of their dependency. In the fourth essay, Vicki Schultz articulates the concept of a "life's work" to offer a moral vision of equality that straddles the liberal and communitarian positions. Annette Wieviorka examines the recent trial of Maurice Papon for complicity in crimes against humanity to reveal how the very identity of a nation, in this case France, can be defined through juridical and legal acts.

The challenges these essays present to established notions of law eschew a simple repudiation of the discourse of rights, or a rejection of the tenets of liberal legality. Certainly they demonstrate the power of the law to define the terms of personal, collective, and national identity. But they also remind us of the power of persons, groups, and nations to construct counternarratives, to define a space of accommodation in which we live more creatively in and through the law.

Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College.

Lawrence Douglas is Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought at Amherst College.

Martha Merrill Umphrey is Associate Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought at Amherst College.

Praise / Awards

  • "This is an important and interesting collection."
    —J. E. Finn, Wesleyan University, Choice, June 2003

  • ". . . a delightful and thought-provoking read. . . . This is a very well-done book; all of the authors and editors are to be applauded. It could be used effectively in graduate and upper-division undergraduate law and society courses, whether offered by political science or sociology departments. Moreover, it makes a fine read for legal theorists and practitioners, interested in the real effects of law on lives."
    —Cynthia L. Cates, Towson University, Law and Politics Book Review, December 2002

  • Austin Sarat is the recipient of the 2006 James Boyd White Prize from the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, awarded for distinguished scholarly achievement and outstanding and innovative contributions to the humanistic study of law

Look Inside

Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted June 2002.

Product Details

  • 256 pages.
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  • 2009
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  • 978-0-472-02140-6

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