Legal Studies 342 - The Legal Imagination
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Legal Studies 342dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)

Spring 2000
The Legal Imagination Janet Rifkin, Professor and Department Chair
Classroom: Herter 211
Class time: Thursday, 2:30 -- 5:30
Office:  219 Hampshire House
Phone:  413-545-5881
Office hours: Monday 1:30 - 4:00
What’s New jrifkin@legal.umass.edudot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)
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dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Syllabus
dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Course Overview dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Assessing Performance of Students dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Class Activities


    dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Course Overview


dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes) Law figures prominently in American culture and society. The idea of law is complex and is understood in many different ways depending on the audience and the context. For example, law has been traditionally taught, and thought about, as a system- as a set of formal, coherent rules that may be mastered and subsequently used in judicial decision-making, public policy formation, institutional practices and in daily life. This approach, called Legal Positivism, has meant that learning the law is to think within formal categories, general frames of concepts, and working within them once a certain classification has been grasped. This perspective about law includes the idea that a conclusion may be reached on any given legal issue and that all it takes is arguing long enough. One of the problems with this view of law is that it ignores the actual way that law operates in the real world. This is problematic because, pragmatically speaking, the law is an instrument of considerable political power and sanction. Legal judgments have far-reaching consequences.

To understand the complexities of the relationship between law and society, it is essential that law is examined both theoretically and practically. In this class, we will not examine law as a system of rules. Instead, as we examine law both as a way of thinking and as a set of practices, we are going to look through a different lens- through the lens of narrative. The readings will offer diverse insights into the idea of law as a "storytelling" process. The goal of our inquiry is to broaden our understanding of the centrality of law in modern American society.

We will be examining a diverse array of law’s "stories." One of our themes will be to examine and evaluate the modern trial as an arena where stories are told, heard, contested and suppressed.  Another theme will be on the question of identity.  We will consider how notions of identity (gender, racial and other group-based identities) are experienced individually and how these notions get expressed and challenged in court cases and institutional practices.  In this context, in the first few weeks of class, we will turn our attention to the complex questions of affirmative action, particularly in educational settings.  The last theme of the course will be on the question of privacy, a right which is cherished as fundamental right, but is not specifically guaranteed by the Constitution.  We will explore how the right to privacy, as an "imagined" right gets expressed and challenged in various court cases and social practices.

Throughout the class, you will be asked to stretch yourself-to see whether or not you can imagine yourself as a different person from who you are. This is the same task that confronts judges as they are required to render decisions affecting others. This is also the task that lawyers have in constructing stories about clients which offer a persuasive enough picture that decision makers, i.e. judges and juries, will see reality from their point of view. The reading for the course consists of diverse materials, including several books of fiction, several books of non-fiction as well as relevant articles, films and appellate cases. The reading for this class is substantial. You will be expected to turn in a short written assignment every week. There will be a midterm exam and a take-home final paper/project. Since class meets only once a week, attendance is required. I will post notices about the course and assignments on the Website for this course. There are two ways to get to it, you can use the full address [] or go to the main site for Legal Studies ( and click on my name.   There's a pointer to the class syllabus on my home page.  It would be a good idea to check this site regularly, so bookmark it for the semester!

 dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Required Readings

 The following materials are available at the Textbook Annex

dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes) Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Good Mother by Sue Miller
Not Only for Myself: Identity, Politics and the Law by Martha Minow
The Right to Privacy by Caroline Kennedy and Ellen Alderman
A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller

dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Teaching Philosophy

dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes) This is an unusual and somewhat experimental course. I am using eclectic materials and hope that you find them interesting and provocative. We will be spending 3 hours together, once a week for the whole semester and I am looking to make this time interactive and stimulating. While I will make some formal presentations to the class, I expect this to primarily be a discussion where everyone will feel comfortable and participate. The reading is substantial. Mostly, the reading is accessible and interesting, but some of the assignments will be "drier" yet important. If you are having trouble keeping up with the readings or the schedule, I expect you to alert me to that fact. I am always willing to help as long as you are honest with me and come and see me before, rather than "after the fact." I will do my best to make this class a good, lively and enjoyable learning experience and I hope you will do the same.


Assessing Performance

Assignments and Assessment

dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes) There is substantial reading for this course. Most weeks, we will be discussing one of the assigned books. There will be an in class mid-term and a take-home final exam. You will also be required to turn in a weekly response sheet to a question that I will have assigned the week before. (These assignments will require a 1-page, typewritten response).  In addition, class attendance and class participation will be factors in your final grade. More specifically, the grading will be based on the following:

Class attendance- 5%
Class participation-10%
Weekly Response Sheets-25%
Mid-term- 30%
Final Project-30%

Academic Honesty Policy

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dot_clear(1).gif (46 bytes)Class Schedule

This is a tentative schedule of assignments. Please understand that I will definitely make changes in this schedule. I will give you notice about these changes but it is your responsibility to stay abreast of these changes.


SFC Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
GM The Good Mother by Sue Miller
NOM Not Only for Myself: Identity, Politics and the Law by Martha Minow
RP The Right to Privacy by Caroline Kennedy and Ellen Alderman
VB A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller
HO Handout

Class meets Thursdays, 2:30 to 5:00 in Herter 207 unless otherwise noted







1/27/00 Introduction 


2/3/00   Read and Discuss VB Response Sheet #1 Due


2/10/00   Read and Discuss NOM, pp. 1-105 Response Sheet #2 Due, possible Library Assignment


2/17/00   Read and Discuss remainder of NOM Response Sheet #3 Due


2/24/00 TBA (possible film)   Response Sheet #4 Due


3/2/00 Midterm given out Read and Discuss GM Response Sheet #5 Due




3/16/00 Spring Break    


3/23/00 Family Privacy

** updated syllabus will be handed out

Read and Discuss RP, pp. 53-157 
Midterm Due

Lifeline presentations


Please note, the syllabus was  updated 3-22-00, from here foreword


3/30/00 Workplace Privacy: "Privacy & Law Enforcement, + guest speaker, "Privacy & the University" Read and Discuss RP, pp. xiii- 49,  Response Paper  #6 Due


4/6/00 NO CLASS (see 4/12)  



4/12/00 Please attend Mary Bonauto, Civil Rights Director, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, speaking  on the Vermont Same Sex Marriage Law, 7:30 p.m., Thompson 102


4/13/00 "Privacy in the workplace, privacy and information"

NOTE: class begins at 3:00 p.m. today

RP, pp. 275-332 Response Sheet #7 and Response Sheet #8 are both Due



4/20/00 No Class (Monday Schedule at UMass)    


4/27/00   Read and Discus SFC Response Sheet #9 Due


5/4/00 "Privacy and the Press" Read and Discuss, RP, pp. 151-226 Response Sheet #10 Due


5/11/00     Final in class Project, TBA
  5/19/00 Last day of finals   Final Paper due 221 Hampshire House by 12 noon


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last updated June 13, 2000  |  contact akl