by Austin Sarat, Matthew Anderson, and Cathrine O. Frank (eds). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 552pp. Hardback. £75.00/ $119.00. ISBN: 9780521899055. eBook format. $88.00. ISBN: 9780511654756.

Reviewed by Christopher A. Riddle, Department of Philosophy, Queen’s University,
Canada. E-mail: Christopher.a.riddle [at]


LAW AND THE HUMANITIES: AN INTRODUCTION is a volume that continues the trend of interdisciplinary legal studies started at the beginning of the twenty-first century. There have been a marked increase of “law and” texts and scholarship emerging and this collection enters the field in good company. That said, this field is a budding one, where “the precise contours . . . are anything but clear” (p.1). In this text, concerns with the payoffs of introducing humanities scholarship into legal practice, as well as other questions addressing how legal examination might enrich the humanities, help to weave a relatively seamless tale about the significance of law and humanities work.

We can trace the bringing of “humanistic perspectives to bear on legal questions” (p.2) through a rich history of scholarship. E. W. Huffcutt, James Boyd White, Louis Menand, and Robin West are all worthy of mention as pioneers in their own right and all emphasize the degree to which the humanities feed the law. All question where ideas of justice come from; how law is imagined; what the law’s linguistic, literary and cultural processes are.

Sarat, Anderson and Frank follow suit and examine similar questions. This book begins with a thorough examination of “the major theoretical statements on the origins and cultural implications of law . . . as well as the disciplinary histories of scholarship in law and humanities” (p.19). It asks questions about the history and significance of scholarship in law and the humanities.

Costas Douzinas’ piece titled “A Humanity of Resistance: Fragments for a Legal History of Humanity” is perhaps the most exemplary chapter in section I. Douzinas argues that it is only with a firm groundwork in the humanities that one can begin to understand the social sciences with the requisite wisdom. He appeals to Pound, Nussbaum, and Balkin and Levinson to arrive at such a conclusion. Whereas Pound suggests the humanities can aid resisting materialism, consumerism, and an omnipotent state, Nussbaum suggests the humanities have a limited role in fostering both moral and rational skills of legal scholars. Conversely, Balkin and Levinson suggest the humanities have no role whatsoever to play because they can neither assist in the development of strong legal argumentation, nor can they prepare law students in any other meaningful way for the lives they will lead. Douzinas however, concludes that

the pressing moral and political task is [not] the development of delicacy of [*308] discernment, the sharpening of hermeneutical aptitude or even moral edification. Adopting from the classics and Roscoe Pound the idea of education as critique of dominant practices which divide, dominate, and oppress, the new Humanities must commit themselves to the re-assertion of principles of truth as unconditional resistance to the bio-political turn of post-political culture. (p.71)

Section I offers an excellent groundwork for what follows. Section II continues by discussing the idea of justice. Questions concerning the meaning of justice in scholarship on the law and the Bible, natural law, positive law, and post modernism are all examined. While Chaya Halberstam’s chapter titled “Biblical Justice: The Passion of the God of Justice” that sets forth to examine differing views of justice that emerge from the Old Testament is engaging and thoughtful, with ideas examined afresh, Matthew Noah Smith’s chapter on positive notions of justice is perhaps the most rigorously argued of this second portion of the text.

Smith engages in a debate concerning allocative principles of justice -- he examines the currency of justice and its fair distribution. He examines retributive, corrective, distributive, and transitional justice, in a noteworthy effort to distinguish between the character-driven story form of justice, and the utopian form. This is done in a lucid and lively attempt to explain these commonly held, distinct conceptions of justice in terms of their underlying narrative form.

Building off discussions of how we conceptualize justice in Section II, Section III explores how culture imagines law and investigates the way in which cultural interpretations of law align, or conflict with those historical and ethical conceptions established in Section II.

Here, “Imagining the Law: Art” by Christine Haight Farley is a consummate examination of the legal issues raised by art and artists. She examines the preoccupation with law as art, law of art, laws of creativity, and how law and art might be at odds. She emphasizes how we might scrutinize law in relation to creative cultural practices and aesthetic judgment. Farley examines in a cogent and eloquent manner the legal understanding of creativity and the cultural function aspect of art in law.

Section IV is a touch of a departure from the narrative of the book, but not so much so as to derail the reader. It takes for granted the fundamentally linguistic character of the law and examines language and its function, as well as the “disjunctions between the uses to which language is put – its goals – and the ability of the linguistic medium to achieve them” (p.34). It examines the perceived instability of language to preserve meaning over time and the power of rhetoric and communication about the world.

Penelope Pether’s aptly titled piece “Language” advocates a theoretically founded scholarship of legal practice that places much importance on not only what its subjects communicate, but how they have become communicative subjects of law altogether.

Finally, Section V builds off the discussion of the linguistic structure of law and makes a turn from language to [*309] the manner in which institutional aspects of laws are established, applied, and emphasized socially. It examines why particular practices of law have become institutionalized. It questions if legal methodologies or epistemologies exceed legal norms and are in fact, fostered through cultural, humanistic perspectives.

Karl Shoemaker’s piece titled “Punishment” examines how and why the conceptualization of punishment in the West has been a legal-centered understanding. Punishment has chiefly taken place within the confines of law, and been left open for lawyers and judges to decide. Shoemaker offers a rousing philosophical analysis of thinking about man as one who punishes and can be punished. He suggests that the humanities provide a realm within which we might engage in discussions of this sort.

As a whole, LAW AND THE HUMANITIES: AN INTRODUCTION offers an ambitious, and successful foray into “law and” scholarship. In this impressive collection consisting of strongly-established themes and rigorous, imaginative pieces, Sarat et al. succeed in making what will be a lasting contribution to interdisciplinary legal studies. This collection, in commendable interdisciplinary styling, bridges gaps between disciplines and provides accessible articles for all those with even tangential interest in the topics examined, without thereby sacrificing any rigor or downgrading of the contributions provided. This is partly to praise the authors of the articles themselves for great clarity and concision, but it would be remiss to fail to offer praise to Sarat et al. for establishing a strong and virtually unwavering narrative.

Those already interested in “law and” scholarship should not miss this collection. Those otherwise engaged in the periphery of these topics will find themselves capable of bridging gaps between the various themes while constantly relating new knowledge back to the old. In short, this volume is an excellent collection of the theoretical and cultural foundations of law and how a humanistic study might both benefit from, as well as inform legal scholarship.

© Copyright 2010 by the author, Christopher A. Riddle.