Workshop 6: Legal Rhetorics
Primarily Synchronous (June 1-4)
Our contemporary political landscape has raised questions about the status, operations, and plausibility of the rule of law in the age of the neoliberal state and post-truth discourse. What authorizes law’s force—if it indeed has any force that remains? Have we given up deliberative democracy's premise that we are both the subject and author of law? What can law do and say now if its standing within democratic practices is precarious and itself in need of recognition? These questions, sitting at the edge of a (constitutional) crisis, are uttered with urgency as calls for justice have been quieted and (human) rights talk has been tampered.
Against this backdrop, this workshop presents scholars the opportunity to investigate how intersections of law and rhetoric might inform projects dedicated to democratic engagement, justice, rights, or ethical life. It examines how rhetorical theories and practices might critique and alter the way law responds to the social controversies that strike at the heart of what it means to have an equal and inclusive democracy. We will also entertain how law and legal practices transform the conditions and operations of rhetoric. Through common readings and peer-generated feedback on participants’ research projects, we will engage how legal speech, silence, writing, and advocacy are productive encounters that illuminate the limits and possibilities of rhetoric for the work of justice in contemporary times.
Sarah Burgess is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and the Faculty Director of the Master’s Program in Urban and Public Affairs at the University of San Francisco. Working at the intersections of rhetorical theory, political theory, legal theory, gender and sexualities studies and philosophy, she studies the rhetorical contours of recognition in order to understand the possibilities and limits of justice in contemporary political landscapes. Her work has appeared, among other places, in The Journal for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, American Journal of Bioethics, MediaTropes, and Philosophy & Rhetoric. She is completing a manuscript titled “Making a Scene: Scandals of Legal Recognition” that examines how legal scenes of recognition are constructed and critiqued in and through the demand for recognition.
Isaac West is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and affiliate faculty of Women’s and Gender Studies at Vanderbilt University. Professor West’s research focuses primarily on legal rhetorics and their role in constituting us as citizens of states, nations, and the world. His first book, Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law (NYU Press, 2014), engages trans advocacy and activism to demonstrate how these citizenship claims can queer legal norms and conventions. Transforming Citizenships was a finalist for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies. Professor West is currently working on a book-length study of true crime titled The Serial Effect: True Crime and Contemporary American Culture. The Serial Effect historicizes current practices in true crime entertainment to trace the evolution of its recurrent tropes and to identify emergent structures of feeling about criminal justice in the United States.