Legal Values: Law & Literature

The field of law and literature is often divided into two strands: “law in literature” and “law as literature.” The “law in literature” strand explores representations of law in poems, short stories, novels, and other literary texts. The “law as literature” strand analyses legal texts through the lens of literary theory, examining the relationship between literary criticism and legal criticism, and between literary theory and legal theory. This seminar will delve into both strands in considering the broad question of how works of literature and literary theory might enhance our understanding of law. Topics of discussion may include: representations of law and legal institutions in fiction, the role of storytelling in law, rhetoric and legal argument, theories of interpretation, and literature and legal change. Readings will be comprised of literary and legal texts as well as scholarly works on law and literature.

Legal Values: Property, the Environment, and Equality

Property is at the heart of economic institutions, beliefs about freedom and security, and people’s understanding of their relationship to the Earth. The focus of this course is (1) understanding the role of property law in harm to the environment and in human relations of inequality and (2) exploring alternatives to the norms and legal forms of property.  To do this, we will integrate analysis of political theory, legal theory, legal history, case law, environmental policy, and issues such as housing and homelessness.  This course will explore the connections between property law and beliefs basic to the economic and political systems of common law countries. For example, we will look at how property law expresses and maintains assumptions about human superiority to other life forms, and the links between those beliefs and settler colonialism.  We will (briefly) look at the legal history of property to understand evolving structures of power and inequality, and the role of property law in that evolution. Legal history provides a perspective that allows us to see that beliefs and practices dominant today have not existed from “time immemorial.” This then sets the stage for examining viable alternatives to existing property structures. In exploring those alternatives, we will look to Indigenous law, comparative law, and the potential for existing legal concepts like “trust” to be re-purposed. We will look at issues of human inequality and the ways they are interwoven with environmental harm. Hierarchies among humans and between humans and the Earth (with humans at the top of a pyramid of life forms) are interconnected through property law. Because property is so embedded in institutions and norms, transformation will require a deep rethinking of core beliefs. We will look at some of the resources for re-envisioning property and the values associated with it. In addition to Indigenous teachings (including learning from the land), these include:  the invocation of spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, to promote care for the earth; theories of the role of competition vs cooperation in evolution and contemporary “human nature;” the importance of nature for human health. Specific topics will include: property and settler colonialism; animals as legal beings; learning to care for the earth; the history of exclusion from the land; the importance of “place” in assessing loss of property; the idea of all land held in trust for the earth community, present and future; the power and threat of the myth of absolute rights of property; property, poverty, and homelessness.

Law, Gender, Equality

This course explores the importance of gender as a category that structures identity, opportunity, and hierarchy. Gender intersects with other categories of hierarchy such as race, class, religion, citizenship status, ethnicity, sexual preference and identity, and able-bodiedness.  The course will explore both theories of how intersectionality works, and the role it plays in the particular spheres of law we will focus on. The primary focus of this course is the complex role that law plays in constructing gender (understood in intersectional terms) and in both maintaining and attempting to overcome inequality. The first overarching topic is violence: Sexual Assault on Trial; Law, Gender and Violence: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives; Structural Violence and Indigenous Women. Another very basic way that gender organizes people lives and opportunities is the way gender structures who provides the basic care that all human beings rely on, and how paid work is organized. Thus, the second broad topic is how law intersects with issues of work and care:  gender identity, labour law, international migration, tax law, and the global economy. We will look at issues of : Masculinity,  Care, and the Legal Structuring of Gender Relations; The Intersecting Structure of Work and Care; Care, Work and “Domestic Work”; Restructuring Work and Care; Law and Gender in Global Context. The readings will provide a range of approaches from feminist theory, to legal history, to empirical studies of lawyers and courts, to doctrinal analysis, to proposals for fundamental societal transformation.

Directed Reading: Legal History Workshop

The Workshop, also known as the Osgoode Society Legal History Workshop, takes place on Wednesday evenings via Zoom (only) throughout 2022-23. It meets approximately seven times in each term, on roughly alternate Wednesdays. The schedule for the first term will be arranged during the summer of 2022 and will be available by August. The schedule for the second term will be arranged during the first term and will be available by the end of November. Students must take the course for the full year. Each session a different presenter will circulate in advance a paper on which he or she would like comment and critique. The presentations may be on any aspect of legal history, from any jurisdiction or time period, though most tend to be on Canadian or US topics. Students enrolled in the course for credit are not expected to present a paper, but to read the papers and participate in the discussion and critique that occur at each session. Through exposure to varied topics in and approaches to legal history, students will come to appreciate the methodologies and modes of analysis employed in doing legal history.

Attendees at the workshop in addition to J.D. students are graduate students and faculty in law and history from U of T and York, as well as members of the profession and other interested parties. Paper presenters are mostly workshop members, but some are visitors from other universities inside and outside Canada. Workshop presenters in recent years from outside Toronto have included Constance Backhouse (Ottawa), David Fraser (Nottingham), Robert Gordon (Yale), Rande Kostal (Western), Brad Miller (British Columbia), Michel Morin (Montreal), Rebecca Scott (Michigan), and Brian Young (McGill).

All members of the law school community are welcome to attend any workshop. JD students or graduate students wishing to register in the workshop for credit may do so. No previous background in history is required.

Comparative Law: Indigenous Legal Traditions

This seminar will introduce students to non-state Indigenous legal orders. Using a transsystemic pedagogical model and a wide range of reading materials (legal cases, methodology, pedagogy, anthropology, theory) students will critically explore the theories and practices of indigenous legal traditions through analysis and substantive treatment of: indigenous sources of law; oral histories and traditions (as legal archive); legal cases and precedent; modes of reasoning and interpretation; and authority and legitimacy.