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Interdisciplinary Scholarship as Guilty Pleasure: The Case of Law and Literature


Jane B. Baron


Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


Law and Literature, Vol. 21, 1999

Abstract:     
Legal scholarship has increasingly borrowed from other, non-law, disciplines; as it has done so, legal scholars have taken increasing interest in the possibilities and limits of interdisciplinarity. Tellingly, virtually all discussions of interdisciplinary scholarship call upon two related metaphors. The first is a metaphor of border-guarding. This is an immigrant/emigrant scholarship, employing tropes of insiders and outsiders, residents and aliens; it relies on images of imperialism, scavenging, and parasitism. The second metaphor is one of fidelity. This metaphoric realm employs tropes of seduction, enchantment, betrayal, faithlessness and abandonment, calling on images of marriage, adultery, and divorce. The two metaphors are linked by a common theme, the theme of boundaries that can be respected or crossed.

Border metaphors raise questions about the legitimacy of discipline-traversing scholarship. What does a scholar from one discipline need to know in order to 'employ' another discipline? Can we really learn another discipline (late in life? without formal training?)? And if we cannot, what is it we borrow from the other discipline? Facts? Theories? The formulation of questions or the organization of research problems? What kinds of interdisciplinary work represent 'rigorous' scholarship? Most importantly, what are the underlying ways in which we categorize knowledge?

Curiously, much of the writing on 'law and' ignores these questions and assumes the integrity of 'law,' 'philosophy,' 'history,' 'literature' and the like as separate disciplines. This assumption of separateness underlies some of the more powerful critiques of attempts by legal scholars to enlist other disciplines in the service of legal arguments. Critiques of law-and-history, law-and-philosophy, and law-and-humanities share a common structure. In each area, the non-law discipline is presented as having serious, 'rigorous' standards. Legal scholars are presented as lacking the knowledge, commitment, background, interest, energy, and common decency required to learn those standards, so their work does not conform to them. Indeed, legal scholars are said to 'abuse' the non-law discipline, enlisting it toward ends for which it is not suited. These critiques invoke both the border-guarding and fidelity metaphors; legal scholars are accused of transgressing into foreign domains they do not truly understand, and also of adulterous style couplings serving solely the selfish needs of the lawyer.

These arguments seem to assume that there really are ends to law or legal scholarship and that those ends really are different from those of philosophy or history. In the compare-and-contrast strategy of interdisciplinary critique, law is depicted as a place, a bounded space, filled only with rules. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of law and literature, where 'law' tends to be portrayed in stereotypical terms as wholly technical, analytical, nonemotional and-above all-doctrinal. This picture is so hackneyed, so caricatured, as to suggest an unacknowledged rhetorical investment in keeping law's borders drawn tightly around the domain of rules. Such an investment is of great cultural significance, revealing a curious attachment to a vision of law that ostensibly has been discredited in the U.S. for over fifty years, the Langdellian vision of law as autonomous.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: law and literature, law and philosophy, law and history, interdisciplinarity, interdisciplinary

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Date posted: May 25, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Baron, Jane B., Interdisciplinary Scholarship as Guilty Pleasure: The Case of Law and Literature. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=904228

Contact Information

Jane B. Baron (Contact Author)
Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )
1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8975 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)
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