Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Psychic Hold of Slavery

Rutgers University Press has published The Psychic Hold of Slavery: Legacies in American Expressive Culture, edited by Soyica Colbert, Robert Patterson, and Aida Levy-Hussen. From the description:
What would it mean to “get over slavery”? Is such a thing possible? Is it even desirable? Should we perceive the psychic hold of slavery as a set of mental manacles that hold us back from imagining a postracist America? Or could the psychic hold of slavery be understood as a tool, helping us get a grip on the systemic racial inequalities and restricted liberties that persist in the present day?  

Featuring original essays from an array of established and emerging scholars in the interdisciplinary field of African American studies, The Psychic Hold of Slavery offers a nuanced dialogue upon these questions. With a painful awareness that our understanding of the past informs our understanding of the present – and vice versa – the contributors place slavery’s historical legacies in conversation with twenty-first-century manifestations of antiblack violence, dehumanization, and social death.  

Through an exploration of film, drama, fiction, performance art, graphic novels, and philosophical discourse, this volume considers how artists grapple with questions of representation, as they ask whether slavery can ever be accurately depicted, trace the scars that slavery has left on a traumatized body politic, or debate how to best convey that black lives matter. The Psychic Hold of Slavery thus raises provocative questions about how we behold the historically distinct event of African diasporic enslavement and how we might hold off the transhistorical force of antiblack domination.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Predicting Dissent in U.S. Courts of Appeals

Daniel Chen, Adithya Parthasarathy, and Shivam Verma have posted “The Genealogy of Ideology: Predicting Agreement and Persuasive Memes in the U.S. Courts of Appeals” as a working paper on SSRN. The abstract:
We employ machine learning techniques to identify common characteristics and features from cases in the US courts of appeals that contribute in determining dissent. Our models were able to predict vote alignment with an accuracy close to 96%, and our results show that the length of the opinion, the number of citations in the opinion, and voting valence, are all key factors in determining dissent. These results that certain high level characteristics of a case can be used to predict dissent, which is not expected to be a trivial prediction, is surprising. We also explore the influence of dissent using seating patterns of judges, and our results show that raw counts of how often two judges sit together do play a role in dissent. In addition to the dissents, we analyze the notion of memetic phrases occurring in opinions – phrases that see a small spark of popularity but eventually die out in usage – and use machine learning models to try and correlate them to dissent.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Cinema and Prison in Early Twentieth-Century America

Forthcoming from Columbia University Press is Alison Griffiths’s Carceral Fantasies: Cinema and Prison in Early Twentieth-Century America. From the description:
A groundbreaking contribution to the study of nontheatrical film exhibition, Carceral Fantasies tells the little-known story of how cinema found a home in the U.S. penitentiary system and how the prison emerged as a setting and narrative trope in modern cinema. Focusing on films shown in prisons before 1935, Alison Griffiths explores the unique experience of viewing cinema while incarcerated and the complex cultural roots of cinematic renderings of prison life. 
Griffiths considers a diverse mix of cinematic genres, from early actualities and reenactments of notorious executions to reformist exposés of the 1920s.She connects an early fascination with cinematic images of punishment and execution, especially electrocutions, to the attractions of the nineteenth-century carnival electrical wonder show and Phantasmagoria (a ghost show using magic lantern projections and special effects). Griffiths draws upon convict writing, prison annual reports, and the popular press obsession with prison-house cinema to document the integration of film into existing reformist and educational activities and film’s psychic extension of flights of fancy undertaken by inmates in their cells. Combining penal history with visual and film studies and theories surrounding media’s sensual effects, Carceral Fantasies illuminates how filmic representations of the penal system enacted ideas about modernity, gender, the body, and the public, shaping both the social experience of cinema and the public’s understanding of the modern prison.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Opinions and Their Audiences

Cambridge University Press has published Ryan Black, Ryan Owens, Justin Wedeking, and Patrick Wohlfarth’s U.S. Supreme Court Opinions and their Audiences. From the description:
This book is the first study specifically to investigate the extent to which US Supreme Court justices alter the clarity of their opinions based on expected reactions from their audiences. The authors examine this dynamic by creating a unique measure of opinion clarity and then testing whether the Court writes clearer opinions when it faces ideologically hostile and ideologically scattered lower federal courts; when it decides cases involving poorly performing federal agencies; when it decides cases involving states with less professionalized legislatures and governors; and when it rules against public opinion. The data shows the Court writes clearer opinions in every one of these contexts, and demonstrates that actors are more likely to comply with clearer Court opinions.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

British Loyalists and Restoring Dignity after the American Revolution

Daniel Hulsebosch has posted “Exile, Choice, and Loyalism: Taking and Restoring Dignity in the American Revolution,” Symposium on “Dignity Takings,” in Law & Social Inquiry (2016), on SSRN. The abstract:
Taking a cue from Bernadette Atuahene’s concept of “dignity takings” and her insight that government expropriation inflicts more than economic injury, this essay analyzes how American revolutionaries defined political membership, penalized and expropriated British loyalists, and then allowed some to join the American polity in the decade after the Revolution. Many recovered their property, professions, and legal privileges. However, because most loyalists could choose to remain loyal or join the Revolution, they did not lose human dignity as Atuahene defines it. Case studies of two reintegrating lawyers, Richard Harison and William Rawle, explore loyalism, the loss of dignities that loyalists suffered, and some paths toward reintegration. Their appointment as federal attorneys helped make the government conversant in the common law, British statutes, and the law of nations, which in turn supported the Federalist goal of reintegrating the United States into the Atlantic World: achieving, in other words, national dignity.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Decade-by-Decade Look at Ten of America's Most Sensational Murder Trials

Prometheus Books has published Mark Phillips and Aryn Phillips’s Trials of the Century: A Decade-by-Decade Look at Ten of America's Most Sensational Crimes. From the description:
In every decade of the twentieth century, there was one sensational murder trial that riveted public attention and at the time was called “the trial of the century.” This book tells the story of each murder case and the dramatic trial – and media coverage – that followed. 
Starting with the murder of famed architect Stanford White in 1906 and ending with the O.J. Simpson trial of 1994, the authors recount ten compelling tales spanning the century. Each is a story of celebrity and sex, prejudice and heartbreak, and all reveal how often the arc of American justice is pushed out of its trajectory by an insatiable media driven to sell copy. 
The most noteworthy cases are here – including the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Sam Sheppard murder trial (“The Fugitive”), the “Helter Skelter” murders of Charles Manson, and the O.J. Simpson murder trial. But some cases that today are lesser known also provide fascinating glimpses into the tenor of the time: the media sensation created by yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst around the murder trial of 1920s movie star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle; the murder of the Scarsdale Diet guru by an elite prep-school headmistress in the 1980s; and more. The authors conclude with an epilogue on the infamous Casey Anthony (“tot mom”) trial, showing that the twenty-first century is as prone to sensationalism as the last century. 
This is a fascinating history of true crime, justice gone awry, and the media often at its worst.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Floors, Doors, Windows, and Ceilings in the Legal Architecture of Empire

Daniel Hulsebosch has posted “English Liberties Outside England: Floors, Doors, Windows, and Ceilings in the Legal Architecture of Empire,” Oxford History of English Law and Literature 1500-1700, ed. Lorna Hutson, Chapter 38 (Oxford University Press, Forthcoming), on SSRN. The abstract:
We tend to think of global migration and the problem of which legal rights people enjoy as they cross borders as modern phenomena. They are not. The question of emigrant rights was one of the foundational issues in what can be called the constitution of the English empire at the beginning of transatlantic colonization in the seventeenth century. This essay analyzes one strand of this constitutionalism, a strand captured by the resonant term, ‘the liberties and privileges of Englishmen’. Almost every colonial grant – whether corporate charter, royal charter, or proprietary grant – for roughly two dozen imagined, projected, failed, and realized overseas ventures contained a clause stating that the emigrants would enjoy the liberties, privileges and immunities of English subjects. The clause was not invented for transatlantic colonization. Instead, it had medieval roots. Accordingly, royal drafters, colonial grantees, and settlers penned and read these guarantees against the background of traditional interpretations about what they meant. 
Soon, however, the language of English liberties and privileges escaped the founding documents, and contests over these keywords permeated legal debates on the meaning and effects of colonization. Just as the formula of English liberties and privileges became a cornerstone of England’s constitutional monarchy, it also became a foundation of the imperial constitution. As English people brought the formula west, they gave it new meanings, and then they returned with it to England and created entirely new problems. 
Liberties and privileges claims fell into five functional categories. First, the claim that colonists abroad and their descendants enjoyed English liberties functioned as an open door, allowing overseas colonists to return home to England and be treated as equal English subjects. Second, the king or his colonial deputies might make positive grants of English liberties to subjects in a royal territory outside England as an inducement for English subjects to migrate there. Here, the grant of English liberties and privileges functioned as a window, a transparent promise of familiar and cherished rights to encourage settlement. Third, already by the time of the English Civil War and more frequently by century’s end, the colonists themselves sometimes claimed English liberties, privileges, and immunities abroad as a floor below which governors could not push. Fourth, in the reverse of the second, the claim that overseas subjects had to be governed according to English standards, including English liberties and privileges, could function as a ceiling on colonial innovation. It was a ceiling measured by metropolitan officials, especially the Privy Council as it reviewed colonial statutes and judicial cases to ensure that they were, in the familiar language of colonial grants, ‘agreeable’ with and ‘not repugnant’ to the laws of England. Finally, colonial assumptions of English liberties functioned as a mirror through which colonists could see themselves as English, even when their colonial rights, such as their property rights, were viewed at home as peculiar. If for example a subject of the English king in an overseas dominion owned slaves in that dominion and wished to sojourn home, could he bring his slaves? Could he carry the rights of a Virginian or Jamaican with him to England and enjoy those rights there? Collapsing English and local liberties, slaveholders argued affirmatively. As Englishmen they should, they thought, be able to move around the empire with their property, including human property.

The Problem of Assembling Law’s Archive

Routledge has published Law, Memory, Violence: Uncovering the Counter-Archive, edited by Stewart Motha and Honni van Rijswijk. From the description:
The demand for recognition, responsibility, and reparations is regularly invoked in the wake of colonialism, genocide, and mass violence: there can be no victims without recognition, no perpetrators without responsibility, and no justice without reparations. Or so it seems from law’s limited repertoire for assembling the archive after ‘the disaster’. Archival and memorial practices are central to contexts where transitional justice, addressing historical wrongs, or reparations are at stake. The archive serves as a repository or ‘storehouse’ of what needs to be gathered and recognised so that it can be left behind in order to inaugurate the future. The archive manifests law’s authority and its troubled conscience. It is an indispensable part of the liberal legal response to biopolitical violence. 
This collection challenges established approaches to transitional justice by opening up new dialogues about the problem of assembling law’s archive. The volume presents research drawn from multiple jurisdictions that address the following questions. What resists being archived? What spaces and practices of memory – conscious and unconscious – undo legal and sovereign alibis and confessions? And what narrative forms expose the limits of responsibility, recognition, and reparations? By treating the law as an ‘archive’, this book traces the failure of universalised categories such as ‘perpetrator’, ‘victim’, ‘responsibility’, and ‘innocence’, posited by the liberal legal state. It thereby uncovers law’s counter-archive as a challenge to established forms of representing and responding to violence.