The course brings together students’ skills in reading and analyzing challenging texts, their formation in literary criticism, linguistics or some other relevant discipline, to provide a cross-disciplinary appreciation of the interpretative dilemmas that confront law. Students will be guided through the mechanics of reading cases and the legal and non-legal metalanguages that are employed in their analysis. By the end of the course students will be able to apply this terminology in the analysis of reported cases, and point to the rhetorical and interpretative strategies employed in legal argument and decision-making. Further, they will be able to relate law’s engagement with classification to wider debates about authority, control, definition and categorization.
Questions of classification arise in relation to mundane categories such as vehicle or vegetable, as well as fundamental categories of identity such as woman or Sikh. One key focus is the complex role of language in this process, in particular law’s use of the categories of ordinary language as a default classification system. When faced with a difficult issue of classification, law has a number of strategies open to it. For example, judges frequently consult dictionaries when unsure of the scope of an ordinary word. Alternatively, they rely on their own linguistic intuitions, on juries, on expert opinion, or on definitions established in related cases. The course will consist in the close reading of key legal decisions in the form of reported cases, combined with more general discussion of classification and categorization in social sciences and philosophy. The precise content of the course will depend on the students’ background knowledge and interests.
The semester will be divided into three sections. The first will consist of introductory presentations by the instructor, together with discussions about the topics and materials that students are interested in exploring. The second section will involve student presentations of individual cases. Ideally, the presentation will lead into the final research essay, which is the focus of the final section of the course. In preparing the research essay, students will meet with the instructor individually rather than in a group. The precise structure of the course will depend on the number of students enrolled and their background knowledge and interests.
Students will be required to present one case analysis to the class, that is, a close reading of a legal case involving classification (20%), and complete a final research essay of 3,000-3,500 words involving original research on a particular theme or domain of case law (80%).
Students can consult Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation (Hutton C.M, Palgrave, 2014) to orient themselves at the beginning of the course. More advanced texts (cases, readings) will be chosen in consultation with students.
Last updated: 14 July 2016