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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael W Mc Cann
LSJ 363
Seattle Campus

Law in Society

Inquiry into how law matters in social practice. Examines general theories of law, the workings of legal institutions, and the character of legally constituted practices and relationships in diverse terrains of social life. Offered: jointly with POL S 363.

Class description

The course will focus on law as a symbolic resource for constructing community and as a mode of organized state violence; we will discuss at length the relationship and tension between these dimensions of law. The character and significance of "rights" as a socio-legal convention will provie a theme that runs through the entire course. We will use a wide variety of texts (academic books and articles, websites, news reports, popular TV shows and movies, music) to trace the circulation and enforcement of legal norms in society.

Student learning goals

The course interrogates what we mean by "law": where and how we find it, how it works as a social practice, how it matters for the social worlds we inhabit.

We will draw on and learn to "see" law through leading frameworks of interdisciplinary "law & society" scholarship. The approaches to the subject will challenge both conventional law school and social science understandings of law to some degree.

Students will be pushed to undertake rigorous analytical burrowing into complex puzzles about how we understand law. This requires suspending opinions and attitude about the subject. Learning the difference between analysis and opinion advocacy is a key goal of the class.

The emphasis on "law in society" will underline how all of us are legal actors (mobilizers) as well as subjected to law in nearly all spheres of our social lives. As such, the course will expand how we think about the legal dimensions of citizenship.

Students will learn how to synthesize different types of knowledge about law (from academic texts, mass media news, popular culture, official legal actors)into coherent ways of knowing, assessing, and acting on law. Students will learn to read and engage law in its many manifestations.

General method of instruction

The lecture class will alternate lectures by the instructor with various modes of collective discussion around key questions. Quiz sections will focus on discussions of key questions and texts.

Recommended preparation

Some basic knowledge of American social and political organization is useful; knowledge of current events as reported in the mass media is important.

Class assignments and grading

Each class will focus on addressing assigned texts (two academic books, articles, literary texts, news reports, website materials, three movies) for their relevance to the larger questions.

An in-class essay exam and a take-home essay assignment will be the primary means of assessing student performance for grades. The class focus on promoting complex analysis makes written exercises requiring students to synthesize diverse materials and explore challenging questions most appropriate. Student participation in discussions and very short writing assignments will count a small part of the final grade.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Michael W Mc Cann
Date: 02/22/2011