Performing Justice Seminar - 2214

Performing Justice Seminar
Class Term:
Spring Term 2020-2021
Catalog Number:


3 (2 Contact, 1 Field)
Graduation Requirements:
Upper-Level Writing
"W" Writing
Seminar - 3rd Year Priority
Full Year Course:
Standard Courses


Anyone who has set foot in a courtroom knows that what goes on there has as much to do with drama as with rational inquiry. Judges act as if they are finding legal rulings by applying objective rules, while making subjective choices about which rules to apply and how.  Witnesses testify as if responding spontaneously to questions that actually have been rehearsed. Lawyers are professionally histrionic – paid to play righteous believers in their clients’ virtue. This is the decision making process Jeremy Bentham called “theater of justice” and the American Legal Realists derided as a “ceremonial routine” of “word jugglery,” “legal ritual,” “magic solving words” and verbal “sleight of hand.”  In this seminar we will explore some standard critiques of law as performance. Along the way we will consider how the theatrical, ritual, and perhaps even magical aspects of legal process might both detract from and contribute to the production of justice. We will approach these questions through reading and discussing a wide range of texts, including, judicial opinions, law review articles, performance theory, plays, social criticism, and ethnography. There will be at least one “field trip” to see some legal performance live, and we will likely make use of film and video as well.

Performing Justice Seminar