“Language,” in the Law and the Humanities: An Introduction


This chapter from Sarat, Anderson and Frank's, Law and the Humanities, An Introduction (Cambridge U.P., 2010), opens with a "post 9/11" clinical teaching "war story," concluding "so much for acronym, euphemism, context, signifiers, and what they signify, writing, positive law and its bureaucratic and institutional simulacra, institutional and disciplinary discourses, surprise, its absence, familiarity, shock, and outrage; and cultural stories, tropes, schemas, or plausible narratives, like the performance of both truthfulness and trauma, or what we might call their discursive construction; and the sites where law and language are evident kin. What of law and language? What does telling stories about law, including the genre of "war stories," suggest about this aspect of the interdisciplinary field constituted by law and humanities work? After all, "'[c]ollecting stories,'" Ewick and Silbey write, in one of a group of recent thoughtful critical studies of law and language that complicate the distinction between linguistic humanities and linguistic human science method, "and ‘having conversations' is not the usual way of describing social science research." More to the point, all of these aspects of the writing about law might equally be found in other sociocultural institutions and their discourses."

Beyond registering that the body of work on law and language that proceeds from the premise that language is but a medium of transmission for the substance of law has been left methodologically behind by contemporary law and language scholarship, this much might also be said: This survey of the state of contemporary humanistic Law and Language scholarship suggests four main conclusions.

The first is that much of value in this body of work involves applying linguistic humanities and/or critical linguistic human sciences methodology to the work of legal institutions, discourses, and texts, and could equally be replicated in "and language" interdisciplinary work in other professions, practices of subject formation, disciplines.

Next, some of it - and the scholarship of Peter Goodrich stands out in particular here - is about the unique or distinctive relationships between law and language. That said, this chapter’s third conclusion about law and language scholarship and the praxes that might be informed by it is that much is yet to be done in the subdiscipline of scholarship concerning itself with the unique or distinctive insights that might emerge from interdisciplinary inquiries into “law” grounded in the work of influential theorists of language and discourse. A cursory sampling of such scholars working in the post- and neostructuralist language studies traditions might range from Derrida and Foucault and Irigaray to Halliday, Kress, and Threadgold to Badiou and Lacan and Kristeva. There are likewise possibilities for interdisciplinary work in law and language that might be potentiated by the development of Peircean semiotics and the linguistic philosophy of Searle and, to a lesser extent, Austin.

This in turn suggests survey’s fourth conclusion: That to the extent that there is an aspect of law and language scholarship that is presently significantly underdeveloped, it is the interrelationships among theories of language, of subject formation, and of law. Lines of inquiry exploring this question might be generated by work drawing on sources that include Husserl's phenomenological theorization of meaning and language and its account of the communicating subject, and Bourdieu’s work on both discourse and subject formation.

The balance of this chapter is divided into six main sections that in turn map distinctive subtypes of Law and Language scholarship: "Humanism and its Supplements;" "InstrumentalPhenomenal;" "PhilosophyTheory;" "Pedagogy and Subject Formation;" "Practice;" and "Culture." I have endeavored to select both representative and significant scholars to exemplify general arguments, with inevitable omissions.



Date of this Version

April 2010

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