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Law’s Violence: Theoretical Foundations and Abolitionist Futures

Instructor(s): Daniel Epstein
Winter 2023

What are the justifications for legal violence in modern states? What does legal violence do in our world? In a time where movements for the abolition of police and prisons are gaining traction, can we imagine non-violent futures for law? This course seeks to introduce students to these questions and consider some possible answers, drawing on an array of writing from scholars and scholar-activists in the fields of political science, philosophy, law, and beyond. We will begin by examining some foundational theoretical issues and arguments related to law, violence, and politics. We will then turn to thinking about the role of legal violence in the making and perpetuation of forms of race and gender oppression. Finally, we will explore the possibility of law without violence, concluding by engaging directly with a theme that will be in the background throughout the course: the politics of prison and police abolition. Students will gain exposure to a wide variety of approaches and methodologies within political and legal theory, and practice using this battery of resources to shed light on present-day political debates and movements. Authors will include Thomas Hobbes, Walter Benjamin, Angela Y. Davis, Robert M. Cover, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and more.

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