December 29, 2009

Call For Papers

From Anne Wagner, Editor, International Journal for the Semiotics of Law

We live in a world of rapid global changes, which we nonetheless seek to understand with reference to general concepts. This world of change can be described in many different ways by taking account of a variety of factors. Among these we can distinguish a specific world-wide tendency for democratization, with social, individual and political dimensions. As some have pointed out, there are very few political orders today that would not claim to be democratic.

This peculiar global trend however gives rise to questions as well as problems, the most important of which seems to concern the question whether the “democratic turn” is real or virtual. Democracy generally means government by the people. Does this then mean that any kind of government by the people can claim to be democratic, or is democracy a more limited concept? What – if any – are the normative requirements of democracy? Democracy, after all, is not simply a descriptive model of government; it is a deeply rooted preference and hence functions as normative blueprint, often expressed in founding principles. Democracy is thus a thoroughly normative model. At the same time, it is constructed and finds expression in different ways in different times and places.

Does this mean that democracy, as a normative project, is such only for a certain section of the world and not for sections that believe in different gods, philosophies or value systems? Perhaps democratic principles are to be understood from a rational, secular value perspective (post-Weberian values) as formal frameworks that give people the possibility to fill them in with their own convictions of the preferred norms that should be obeyed in the name of equality and freedom. Does democracy not however imply a specific form of civic engagement and participation? Does democracy not also entail self-expression based on autonomy? Democracy does appear to give expression to post-traditional values which are not as yet dominant throughout the world. For this reason the further question arises as to the legal nature of a democratic political order. Are - following Sir Neil MacCormick - normative order, institutional normative order and institutional order three different kinds of order, do they overlap, or do they perhaps have the same source that keeps dividing itself into different orders?

Should morally impartial legal rules be the regarded as the most important or perhaps as the only support for peace in a pluralistic world? But then, rephrasing somewhat Ronald Dworkin’s question, we can ask how – if at all – democracy is possible here?

* * *

The 9th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law invites all those who are interested in problems concerning Legal Rules, Moral Norms and Democratic Principles to take part in our roundtable discussion in Poznań (Poland). The perspective adopted by participants – whether purely semiotic, legal, philosophical, sociological, cultural, sociolinguistic etc. – can be freely chosen by each participant.

We invite everyone interested in participating in The 9th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law to send us an abstract by the 1st of May 2010. It should be prepared in either English or French (max 300 words) and sent by e-mail to;; and to Anne Wagner at .

Selected papers will be published in a special annual issue of the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law (

Anne Wagner, Ph. D., Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale (France)

Research Professor, China University of Political Science and Law (Beijing)

December 16, 2009

Gary Watt's Equity Stirring: The Story of Justice Beyond Law

A wonderful, densely written book that you shouldn't miss: Gary Watt's Equity Stirring: The Story of Justice Beyond Law (Hart Publishing, 2009).

Says Professor Watt in his introduction, "I start with titles, because one of the aims of this book is to explore the potential of a cultural discourse, based on equity, to resist a culture of entitlement, based on rights. The inscription of title and entitlement, but the process is fundamentally erroneous and calls for equity's correction, since a mere title can never express the whole truth."

The author plays with language and ideas throughout the work, instructing and guiding and leading us along the way in an invigorating adventure through the philosophy of law, literature, cases (e.g., the Earl of Oxford's case), the history of law, law and gender, and then "gets down to cases:" for example, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. I found the extensive discussion of the many meanings of chancery (chapter 3: Chancery Script) of particular interest. Watt races from Charles Dickens to Sir Edward Coke and weaves from literature to law with astounding ease. It's a star turn, and a volume that one can re-read profitably.

Lots of footnotes, an amazing bibliography.

[NB: The publisher sent me this free copy.]

Call For Papers

Savage Thoughts: Interdisciplinarity and the Challenge of Claude Lévi-Strauss

Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas McGill University, Montréal
24-26 September 2010


Claude Lévi-Strauss was one of the great interdisciplinary writers of the twentieth century whose influence has been felt far beyond his home discipline of anthropology. His inquiry illuminated the border lands between primitive and non-primitive, self and other, myth and history, human and animal, art and nature, and the dichotomies that give structure to culture. At the same time his method troubled those borders and dichotomies, through the bricolage he adopted that illuminated connections amongst literature, art, psychology, music, religion, and law.

Our call for ‘savage thoughts’ seeks out new work influenced by this inquiry and these methods, and reflections on Levi-Strauss’ legacy across the whole range of the humanities and beyond, including—

1) Recent interdisciplinary research in the reception, critique, and development, of Lévi-Strauss’ work. How have these inquiries been transformed in recent years? Are the children of Lévi-Strauss as savage as he?

2) Consideration of Lévi-Strauss’ larger intellectual influence, explicit or otherwise, right across the humanities. Perhaps there is something savage at the heart of interdisciplinary thought itself—refusing to be tamed by the intellectual borders of a discipline, it forages at will. Where has Lévi-Strauss’ method spawned such wildness and hybridity?

3) Looking beyond the academy to consider how Lévi-Strauss’ ideas have embedded themselves in the culture, values, social organization, and framework of modern society. What is the public life and impact of these ideas? In what ways has our world been altered by his mode of apprehending it?

Conference organizers invite papers that address the borderlands between a wide range of disciplines including, but not limited to Anthropology, Architecture, Art History, Communications, History, Law, Linguistics, Literature, Human Geography, Musicology, Philosophy, Psychology, Religious Studies, Semiotics, and Sociology. Proposals for single papers in English or French as well as for complete panels are welcome. In either instance, abstracts for 15-20 minute papers should be c.200 words, and accompanied by a brief (2-page) CV. Proposals for complete panels should also include a short explanation of the panel theme. Please send proposals as electronic files (in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format) to no later than 15 March 2010.

Conference website:
Conference registration will open 15 April 2010. Registration details, including fees information are on the website.

The Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas at McGill University is committed to understanding how the arts (literature, painting, film, theatre, music, industrial and artistic design, architecture) and new ideas come into being in a range of settings (schools, the law courts, markets, the Web, the book trade, state institutions) and in relation to social, cultural, and institutional practices. It also strives to understand how art and ideas are able to transform the private world of the individual, the greater world of public matters, and the interactivity between the two.

December 15, 2009

AALS Section On Law and the Humanities Focuses on "Reasoning From Literature" at 2010 Conference

From Jessica Silbey, news of this year's AALS Section on Law and the Humanities
2010 AALS Conference, New Orleans

Reasoning from Literature

The “literary turn” in legal studies manifests in many ways in our legal discipline and practice. Be it with the birth of the study of law and literature in the 1980s, the growing attention to narrative theory and storytelling in the law in the 1990s, or the “cultural turn” in legal studies in the 21st century (as some scholars have called the cultural analysis of law), reasoning from literature seems commonplace. And yet it feels still marginalized in legal studies, as not “really law,” and lacking the core persuasive power that legal argumentation and doctrinal analysis do. This panel has been put together to wrestle with what it means to “reason from literature” and to contest the boundaries between legal reasoning and literary logic. Proceedings to be published in the Yale Journal of Law and Humanities, Winter 2010.

Program Chair: Jessica Silbey, Suffolk University Law School
Section Chair: David Ritchie, Mercer
Chair Elect: Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Iowa

Jessica Silbey
Associate Professor of Law
Suffolk University Law School
Boston, MA 02108

December 8, 2009

Matriculate At Lost U: Low Tuition, Lots of Relevance, High Fun Factor

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus Blog has this piece about Lost University, a project of the folks over at ABC's Lost, which links the show's content to, well, the real world. Real class materials include Bluray discs of the show, and you won't get any spoilers. Rats. First semester offerings include a course on time travel by a physics prof at USC, philosophy from other USC profs, and hieroglyphics from a UCLA professor.

Here's more from the Los Angeles Times.

Nicholas Warner, who teaches the physics course, told the Chronicle,
“There used to be huge disconnect (sic) between watching television shows and academic investigation. Anything that provides channels to follow up questions is a wonderful thing.”

Now, Professor Warner is right--building bridges between the two cultures is indeed a wonderful thing. But I think academics have been building those bridges for a while now. College courses (and graduate school courses) integrating popular culture and everything else, including law, have been around for a while now, as have books about tv shows and films in which academics study the impact of popular culture (think about all those books about the meaning of Star Trek). I think the "disconnect" vanished into a black hole some time ago. What's different about this enterprise (ha!) is that it's a joint project between the show and academia.

Juries and Narrative

John M. Conley, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Law, and Robin H. Conley, UCLA Department of Anthropology, have published "Stories from the Jury Room: How Jurors Use Narrative to Process Evidence," at 49 Studies in Law, Politics, & Society 25 (2009). Here is the abstract.
This paper analyzes the ways in which jurors use everyday storytelling techniques in their deliberations. It begins by reviewing the literature on how jurors receive and process evidence, emphasizing narrative and storytelling. It then presents some new, qualitative linguistic data drawn from actual jury deliberations, which shed light on jurors' standards of evidence and proof, as well as on the persuasive tactics they use in dealing with each other. Although these data are limited, they provide an interesting basis for assessing existing ideas about jury evidence-processing and thinking more broadly about the strengths and weaknesses of the jury system.

Download the article at the link.

December 7, 2009

More Law and Baseball

And it's back.

Aaron Zelinksy, Yale Law School, is publishing "The Justice as Commissioner: Benching the Judge-Umpire Analogy," in Yale Law Journal Online. Here's the abstract.
Chief Justice Roberts has repeatedly compared the role of a Supreme Court Justice to that of a baseball umpire, and this analogy has assumed a prominent place in the contemporary debate over the appropriate role of a Supreme Court Justice. This paper traces the history of the judge-umpire analogy since its first judicial invocation in 1886, finding that it was originally intended for trial court judges. Moreover, courts historically invoked the analogy as an illustrative foil to be rejected because of the umpire’s passivity. In place of the judge-umpire analogy, this paper propose that the appropriate analog for a Justice of the Supreme Court is the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Both Supreme Court Justices and Major League Baseball Commissioners fulfill four critical characteristics which separate them from trial court judges and umpires: they provide interpretive guidance to subordinates, undertake extended deliberation, take countermajoritarian action, and wield substantial rule-making power.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

Law and Baseball

Ross E. Davies, George Mason University School of Law, has published "It’s No Game: The Practice and Process of the Law in Baseball, and Vice Versa," in Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment (forthcoming). Here is the abstract.

It is a commonplace that the relationship between baseball and the law is a long and close one. But, first, is it true? And, second, if it is, just how long and how close? Strangely, given the large amount of good work produced by able scholars of baseball and the law, concrete answers to these basic questions are not readily available. This article is a first step toward filling that gap. It is a sketch of the length, breadth, and depth of the relationship between baseball and the law. (In order to tell a less-than-interminable tale, this article mostly tilts back and forth between recent years – evidence of the vibrancy of the baseball-law relationship today – and the late 19th and early 20th centuries – evidence that it has been vibrant for a long time – and deals only sketchily even with those periods. This should not be taken to mean that the baseball-law relationship was any less interesting at other times, or that there isn’t much more to be said about all times.) As should be clear by the end of this article, the answer to the first question is an emphatic and certain “Yes”: baseball and the law are close and have been for a long time. The answer to the second question, however, is an equally emphatic but far less certain “Very”: while there surely are both unrecognized extents and unmarked limits to the law-baseball relationship, we cannot define them without a fuller inventory and chronology – an old-fashioned digest – of the thousands upon thousands of events that make up the history of baseball and the law. Perhaps this article can serve as the kernel of such a project.

[I don't normally blog articles about law and baseball, but I'm branching out].

Tax and Shakespeare

Ellen P. Aprill, Loyola Law School (Los Angeles, has published "A Tax Lawyer's Interpretation of Shakespeare," at 13 ABA Section of Taxation News Quarterly 13 (Fall 2009). Here is the abstract.

Shakespeare has been quoted and invoked in numerous contexts, but, inexplicably, the insights his immortal words bring to tax law have been ignored. This short and lighthearted piece begins to fill that gap. Expanding on my remarks in accepting the 2009 Dana Latham Memorial Award from the Los Angeles County Bar Association Taxation Section, I discuss quotations from Shakespeare’s plays that illuminate important tax doctrines.

Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

Aprill. What an auspicious name for a tax professor.

December 3, 2009

Law in "Titus Andronicus"

Paul Raffield, University of Warwick School of Law, has published "'Terras Astraea reliquit’: Titus Andronicus and the Loss of Justice," in Shakespeare and the Law (Paul Raffield and Gary Watt eds.; Hart 2008) at 203-220). Here is the abstract.

This paper considers the constitutional and political significance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, in the context of fin-de-siècle Elizabethan rule, during which period the jurisdiction of the prerogative courts threatened to supersede that of the courts of common law. I examine juristic belief in the existence of an unwritten law, superior in authority to imperial edict: a theme which resonates throughout Titus, but which also underscores The Reports of Sir Edward Coke, which he was compiling in the 1590s. I analyse also the symbolic importance of ancient Rome to the development in England of a body of literature that might loosely be termed republican. The story of the destruction of Troy and its re-emergence in London as Troynovant is a literary device that was employed by Elizabethan writers as a means of establishing the ancient credentials of the English state and English common law.

Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

December 2, 2009

Contract Law in the Comedy of Errors

Paul Raffield, University of Warwick School of Law, has published "The Comedy of Errors and the Meaning of Contract," in Shakespeare's Imaginary Constitution: Late Elizabethan Politics and the Theatre of Law (3 Law and Humanities (2009)). Here is the abstract.

This article examines the theme of contract and its symbolic connotations of societas or fellowship, in the context of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and its performance on 28 December at the Gray’s Inn revels of Christmas 1594. Central to the argument is the extraordinary advancement of contract law in Elizabethan England, and in particular the significance of the promise to the status of binding bilateral agreements. In particular, the analysis considers the promotion of assumpsit at the expense of actions for debt in relation to a society (and a legal profession) whose mores were heavily influenced by humanist notions of the individual conscience, which simultaneously bound the subject of law into an ethical association with his fellow citizens and freed him (at least putatively) from the constraints of immutable, ancient law. The Comedy of Errors provides a perceptive critique of a society which is bound together only by the market, having abandoned or mislaid the true bonds of friendship and love, through which a just community may be recognised.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.