Course - Law
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Forty plus years after the LSA’s founding, there is substantial scholarship suggesting how law creates, extends, reinforces—or at best—leaves intact class, race, gender and other inequalities. But there also is much literature specifying how, and under what conditions, law can mitigate or undermine such inequalities, contributing to progressive social change.  Juxtaposing the two suggests that boundless pessimism is as unwarranted as boundless optimism.   There clearly are limits to law as a force for mitigating inequality. But there also may be limits to those limits. 


This course explores how law shapes construction, reproduction and transformation of the political-economy of capitalism and its systems of class, race and gender inequality.  The course will introduce you to multiple concepts of law, including law as institutionalized doctrine, law as legality, law as power, law as social control and law as instrumental and constitutive resource.  It also will highlight the multiple social processes through which law shapes social action, identities and institutions.  These include “rational” or interest-based adaptation to new incentives, cultural diffusion of increasingly taken for granted norms and structures, and overt competition, contestation,  and conflict.  Overarching themes include: 1) the role of law as cause and consequence in processes of economic, political and social stabilization and change; and 2) the ways that law reproduces, or conversely, undercuts class, race and gender inequalities in democratic capitalism.


The course will operate with a broad conception of politics, wherein the politics of law is presumed to involve both the exercise of covert power and the overt mobilization and counter-mobilization of legal resources in contests over the rules of political-economic, legal and social action and the distribution of political-economic, legal and social resources and rewards. Among specific topics to be explored are: ideals of liberal legality and autonomy of law; classical social science treatments of the relationship among law, state and economy; implications of formal vs. substantive law for the relationship among law, inequality and social change; the politics of rights enactment and enforcement; class inequality, labor law and social change; race and gender inequality, anti-discrimination law and social change; the possibilities and limits of law as a vehicle for promoting equality and social justice; and the conditions that maximize law’s equality-promoting potential in democratic capitalism.  Much of the course will focus on the United States, but we will explore U.S. law, its processes and impact in comparative and international perspective.

Law Politics and Inequality is designed as a graduate course to be cross-listed in Sociology and in Law, and to benefit from a mixed enrollment of law students and graduate students in sociology and cognate social sciences, including but not restricted to political science.  Because graduate students and law students will come to the class with diverse backgrounds and with diverse professional goals in mind, appropriate resources will be provided to help each set of students understand and acquire the basic concepts and reasoning strategies with which the other set of students already is familiar.  This should maximize the positive potential of inter-disciplinary communication and learning.  As well, some choice in writing assignments is provided, so that each student can choose the option that best aligns course objectives with his/her educational and career goals. 

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Graduate courses are not open to web reg.  Graduate students that want to add Robin's course should contact Vienna Marum at 621-3014 and  She will enroll the students on -line.

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