Dear Habermas Logo A Jeanne Site

Sociology of Law and Social Change Class
Fall 1999

Glossary of Law Terms

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: September 8, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Law School as A Socially Constructed Reality

Introductory Lecture

August 30, 1999: Introduction

Introduction to Dear Habermas Site. Called "Dear Habermas" like "Dear Abby," for we cannot know what Habermas would say. We just do our best to answer students' questions by reading his work and analyzing what we think his theory, policy, and practice would suggest.

How the books fit together. We base our work on the theory on the system of law by Habermas who recognizes the dilemma of postmodernism, but believes that everything need not disintegrate into relativism. Means to that: public discourse and recognizing validity claims. Validity claims are often hard to recognize, especially when brought by those who have been excluded, for they use our language of claims from an external position. They try to say what they think we're saying, but they are not really privy to all the transactions, which makes it easy for us to mis-hear the claim and reject it. The good faith of public discourse, in the Habermasian sense, requires that we make an effort to help those who are trying to make a validity claim phrase it in ways we can understand. We have to listen past the words for the ideas, and then help rephrase the ideas so that all may understand them.

Reading Arrigo, critical theory, will make us aware of the claims made by those who see the problems in democracy set within capitalism. So you are reading Arrigo to become aware of different validity claims. Images of Color, Images of Crime will help you develop a sensitivity to color, which has been a major source of concern to the whole world.

September 1, 1999: Law School as A Socially Constructed Reality

Several things sidetracked me today. I had meant to speak about critical theory and the law. Instead I spoke of my comfort with using "jeanne," not Dr. Curran, in the classroom. That does get down to critical theory, for what I am asking you to do is to drink in the critical position that there is no single right definition of social justice. That is disconcerting, upsetting, no matter whether you are liberal, conservative, whatever. Maybe our system of justice really doesn't mete out justice sometimes. Because I want you to really consider these issues, I don't want distance in our way. I do not have the answers. I do know some very sophisticated questions I want to share with you. For over twenty-five years I have found that eliminating titles eliminates some of the arrogance that seems to come with their use, and lets students feel more "equal" in these discussions. Maybe it works; maybe it doesn't; by now, for me, it's habit. Think about it, and let me know what you think.

Somehow that took me to law school and the social construction of a reality that is harsh, competitive, and stressful. Duncan Kennedy, in The Politics of Law describes his first-year Harvard students as giving up their liberal beliefs and giving in to the "hierarchy." He complains that students should prefer their liberal professors who treat them as equals to the conservative professors who "bully" them into accepting the hierarchy of the law school and the legal system beyond. I understand his position, but I think he's wrong. I think it's us, the professors, who should battle the hierarchy of the legal system. Our students are caught in the reality of the legal world as it is defined by those who hold power over their futures. Law school is "constructed" to challenge, to humiliate in the name of learning your place in the hierarchy, to overwhelm and intimidate. It is stressful, and some who sought to make the world better, go discouraged and accept the hierarchy uncritically. Yes, Duncan Kennedy has reason to oppose that. But legal education need not be so. We define the reality by our actions and reactions to each other, and to the system of law.