Introduction to 'A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age'

A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age, Forthcoming

NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3366487

32 Pages Posted: 5 May 2019

Date Written: April 4, 2019


A distinguishing feature of the twentieth century is the loss of any unitary foundation for truth, ethics, and the legitimate authority of law. With the emergence of radical pluralism, law became the site of extraordinary creativity; on occasion, a source of rights for those historically excluded from its protection. At the same time, it was a century convulsed by worldwide violence within and among states. Amidst pervasive fragmentation, however, the century also saw an unprecedented surge in mass communication (radio, film, television, and the Internet). It was as if for each new perspective on reality there arose an alternative medium for its transmission.

'A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age' braids these centrifugal movements. Each chapter tells a story about how state power – or resistance to power – has been exercised within a particular expressive medium. From the instigation of genocidal state violence through the acoustics of radio, to the performance of Aboriginal land claims in traditional songs and ceremonial dance, to live street theater as a form of local resistance to corporate power, these case studies show how discrete modes of communication construct, memorialize, and disseminate political and legal meaning. They suggest that we will need to grow adept in multiple ways of knowing, wielding a diverse array of expressive and interpretive tools and modes of attunement, if we are to steady the course of judgment in the ongoing quest for truth and justice under the rule of law.

Keywords: history, culture, pluralism, law, history of ideas, communication studies, rhetoric, sensory studies, jurisprudence, media

JEL Classification: Z13, Z13, K10, K42, O

Suggested Citation

Sherwin, Richard Kenneth and Celermajer, Danielle, Introduction to 'A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age' (April 4, 2019). A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age, Forthcoming, NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3366487, Available at SSRN:

Richard Kenneth Sherwin (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States

Danielle Celermajer

The University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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