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.