This course explores the sociological understandings of law and legal institutions. We will discuss theoretical perspectives and explore empirical studies on the relationship between law and society, the relationship between law and social norms, the relationship between language and law, the “law in action” in various social contexts, the role of lawyers, judges and other intermediaries, and the role of law in social change. The course aims to give students a comparative perspective of law and legal institutions by exposing students to not just the classic approaches to law and society, but exploring the differences and similarities in other countries. Law and legal institutions outside the United States can be both very different, and, at times, surprisingly familiar. We will address questions such as: Why do societies have law? What is the relationship between law and social norms or values? Is law a mechanism for coordinating human activity toward the common good, or a vehicle for conflict and oppression? When does law stabilize society, and when does law promote social change? Is everyone equal under the law or does the law provide more resources to some social groups than to others? Although sociological perspectives are emphasized, this course takes an interdisciplinary approach that also includes anthropology, political science, and legal scholarship.
Field ClassCountry: South Africa
Date: October 12, 2017
In the course of our day, I would like to have our class visit Robben Island. I would very much hope that we could have a knowledgeable guide for the day, both so that the students could dialogue with this person, and so that the guide would know the very best places to direct us to. The tour guides for Robben Island are former political prisoners that used to be incarcerated in this prison. They are very knowledgeable about the Island's multi-layered history. Because the tours are run by former prisoners, my hope would be that students could talk to the former prisoners about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and their perspectives about the post-apartheid regime in light of the readings we will have discussed in class. The tour will guide us through the history of the prison, including viewing Nelson Mandela's prison cell. This portion of our experience would take about 3.5 to 4 hours. If we can secure a specialized tour, we might be able to spend even more time with former political prisoners who can shed light on everything that we read in class.
For the second portion of our day, I like for our class to go to The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. We would visit the facility and all the materials in the facility in addition to hopefully having an opportunity to talk with board and staff members about the truth and reconciliation process. This will connect nicely with the readings for the class on truth and reconciliation.
The class assignment for the day would be to try to gain as much of a sense as possible of the situation of oppression under apartheid that Nelson Mandela and the other freedom activists had to overcome, and also to appreciate all the conditions, legal and physical, under which they carried out their successful struggle. We will have covered a lot of material on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the purpose of punishment (retribution, punitive, restoration, reconciliation). Our field class would provide an experiential component that will magnify the power of the material that we read and the documentary that we watched.
1. Understand apartheid and oppressive regime that Nelson Mandela and other freedom activists endured.
2. To appreciate the legal and physical conditions freedom activists experienced.
3. Examine what truth, justice and reconciliation means for South Africans (the people and the government.