Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
government masthead
Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Spring 2010

GOV 357M • Law, Public Policy, Social Change

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
38860 M
5:30 PM-8:30 PM
MEZ 1.102
Millstone, J

Course Description

This class serves as an upper divisional undergraduate seminar, with a substantial writing component, to study the politics of American law and legal system by focusing on how law can bring order, meaning, and change in society. Students will explore the American legal system in action through readings, lectures, and discussions, as well as the study of real cases. Specifically, the course provides students an opportunity in a seminar setting to probe the inner workings of the American legal system as both an instrument and product of politics. The course will be divided in two parts. Part I: We will examine the fundamentals of what law is and how it functions in society. A key theme here is how law works as a set of norms, symbols, discourses, and practices that infuse and shape all aspects of social life. We will inquire into how law shapes citizens' lives and how citizens in turn can shape the law. We will focus on three sets of relationships: between legal ideology and legal practice; between law, identity, and community, and between law and violence. We look not only at how legal institutions (courts) and actors (judges, police, lawyers, etc.) function, but also how ordinary citizens use and understand law in their everyday lives. Part II: Building upon the themes introduced in Part I, our attention in Part II turns to whether law can serve as an instrument of social change. We will look in some detail at the conflicting roles of lawyers and the legal profession, either as agents of change or protectors of the status quo. By the end of the course, students should be better able to evaluate law and legal institutions, and understand how law is involved in the processes of social control and social change. Students are expected to critically evaluate the material presented in class, including lectures, readings, and presentations. Students must frame their own thinking about the law in terms of different theories of law, take positions on legal questions and defend those positions in both oral and written form.


To achieve the course objectives, we will turn to works from a variety of sources including law and political science, but also sociology, criminology, and philosophy. Scheingold, S. and A. Sarat, 2004. Something to Believe In. Stanford Univ. Press. ISBN: 0804749477 Scheingold, S. 2004. The Politics of Rights. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. ISBN: 0472030051 Sarat, Austin. 2004. The Social Organization of Law. 1st ed. Los Angeles, Calif.: Roxbury Press. ISBN:1-931719-20-9 Ewick, P. and S. Sibley 1998. The Common Place of Law. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press ISBN: 0-226-27744-8 Tarr, G. 2006. Judicial Process and Judicial Policy Making. Belmont, Ca.: Thomson. ISBN:0-534-60243-6 Schneider, E. 2000, Battered Women and Feminist Law Making. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, ISBN: 0-300-09411-6 Additional Readings: Court decisions and other readings will periodically be placed on the course Blackboard web site or handed-out in class. In addition, you are required to read either (i) a national daily newspaper (e.g. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post) or (ii) a weekly magazine (e.g. Time, Newsweek, The New Republic, The National Review, or The Weekly Standard) since we will discuss current legal issues, you need to stay informed and be knowledgeable about major current events, issues, and controversies. You can read these news sources either in print (by subscribing or reading at the library) or via the web.


bottom border