Interdisciplinary perspectives - law and literature

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Claire Wrobel / Revue d'Etudes Benthamiennes - Bentham Centre (Paris)

Interdisciplinary Perspectives: Law and Literature

General presentation
Bentham and his followers were undeniably interdisciplinary thinkers as their interests ranged from reforming the legal and political system to economic and colonial matters as well as language. They moved about diverse social circles and, even when they did not meet face to face, reformers and writers often discussed, albeit on different modes, the same issues.

The Revue d'Etudes Benthamiennes is seeking to publish papers relying on the methodology of "Law and Literature" studies to shed new light on the works and thinking of Bentham and his followers and, conversely, identify what Bentham's theory of fiction or evidence – for instance – may bring to the field.

John Wigmore (1863-1943) is usually regarded as the founding father of the "law and literature" movement. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he established lists of legal novels – meaning novels which included trial scenes or portraits of lawyers for example – which lawyers should read. Wigmore, like Bentham, analysed the common-law system of evidence (Treatise on the Anglo-American System of Evidence in Trials at Common Law, 4 vols, 1904-5). The fact that Bentham and Wigmore's theories of evidence should have been studied conjointly by William Twining is quite significant (Theories of Evidence: Bentham and Wigmore, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1985).

Wigmore's undertaking was supported and continued by some of his colleagues, including Benjamin Cardozo (whose essay on "Law and Literature" was published in the Yale Review in 1925 [vol.14, pp.699-718]) and Richard Posner (who took a critical stance in Law and Literature: a Misunderstood Relation, Harvard University Press, 1988).

The Legal Imagination (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, [1973] 1985), which James Boyd White, a Law Professor at the University of Michigan, devoted to Shakespeare, provided new impetus to the movement and the field has kept on developing in the United States, especially from the 1990s. Most American law schools now offer "Law and Literature" classes. Three academic reviews centre on the subject: the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, theLegal Studies Forum, and the Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature.

In France, two conferences were organised recently: in 2007 at the Cour de cassation (the French Court of Appeal) and in 2011 at the University of Paris Ouest-Nanterre. In France as in Anglo-Saxon countries, the interest in "Law and Literature" has emerged through law specialists but the field is by its very nature open to other disciplines. This CFP addresses specialists of Law, Literature, but also philosophy.

Contributions may address - but are not necessarily limited to – the axes which are already well-established: law in literature (the way literature reflects – in both senses of the word – the world of law and legal processes), law asliterature (the literary properties of legal texts), the law of literature (the laws relating to literary production and intellectual property), legal and literary hermeneutics. Bentham's theories on fictions and evidence may prove particularly fruitful for hermeneutic issues.

Law in literature
- The relation between Bentham and Dickens needs reassessing after the interpretations offered by F.R. Leavis ('"Hard Times": The World of Bentham' [1947] reprinted in The Great Tradition [1973], pp. 227-48) and D.A. Miller inThe Novel and the Police (Berkeley: University of California Press, c1988). Marjorie Stone ("Dickens, Bentham, and the Fictions of the Law: A Victorian Controversy and its Consequences", Victorian Studies 29 [1985], pp. 125-54) and Kathleen Blake (Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009) have already offered new perspectivs but their undertaking needs to be pursued.

- Attention may be focused on the literary adaptations of Bentham's Panopticon. A related question would be whether Foucault's Discipline and Punish may itself be regarded as fiction.

- How do literary texts explore the cracks and loopholes pointed out by law reformers?

Law as literature
Here "legal" text is to be understood in a wide sense. Papers could thus focus on the use of rhetoric and metaphors in polemical writings on the common law such as AComment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government.

Theory of fiction / fictions?
Bentham's theory of fictions has received increasing critical interest. Bentham made a distinction between logical fictions, which are necessary to discourse and knowledge, and the fictions used by priests, politicians and lawyers in order to manipulate public opinion and maintain the domination of privileged classes. How could this theory of fictions be related to literary fiction?

Theory of evidence and narration
In Rationale of Judicial Evidence (a collection of writings produced between the years 1802 and 1812 and collected by John Stuart Mill), Bentham examined how "chains of facts" are reconstructed in courts and assessed the relative weight which should be granted to testimonies, confessions and circumstantial evidence. Alexander Welsh (in Strong Representations – Narrative and Circumstantial Evidence in England, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992) has suggested that Bentham's critique of the use of confession and testimonies coincided with a change in the practice of novelists, who no longer sought to create an illusion of truth by means of letters, memoirs and other such documents.

What does Bentham tell us about the hermeneutic practices of judges, jurors but also novel readers?

To what extent do his remarks forecast the advent of the detective novel?

What is the interest and what are the limits of the "law and literature" field for Bentham studies?

Deadline for submission and publication
The 12th issue of the Revue d'Études Benthamiennes, to be published in autumn 2013, will be devoted to this theme. It will be coordinated by Claire Wrobel (Université Lille 2).

Please send proposals (in French or in English) of around 500 words and a short biography to Emmanuelle de Champs ( and Claire Wrobel ( by January 12th. Acceptance of proposals will be signified in February. Completed articles will be due by June 1st 2013