Law, Literature, and Social Policy Seminar

Section 1, Spring 23

Schedule Information

Enrollment: 15/16
Credits: 3
Days* Time Room Start Date End Date
  • T
  • 0920-1120
  • WB114
01/24/2023 04/25/2023
*“R” means Thursday

Course Description

Legal rules, and policy arguments regarding how they ought to be designed, often rely on social science knowledge or beliefs. For example, the proper design of both intellectual property rights and tax rules might depend on how particular choices would affect both economic output and the degree of inequality in the society. It might also further depend on how we believe those broader outcomes would affect people’s wellbeing. In legal discussions of the social science inputs to rule design, economic paradigms and analysis often receive predominant attention. However, there have been increasing calls for greater use of both the “soft” social sciences (such as sociology), and the humanities. This proposed shift in emphasis has included suggestions that literary works might offer a tool for better understanding sociological phenomena, or the moral considerations, that are relevant to law and policy. This emerging field, which one might call “Law, Literature, and Social Policy,” differs somewhat from traditional “Law and Literature,” although there is also significant overlap. The latter typically addresses such questions as how particular literary texts portray legal institutions, what the use of literary imagination might bring to legal analysis, and how storytelling might function in each realm. This seminar will focus less on such questions than on how literary and other creative works might help one to derive sociological insights that are relevant to public policy. Both approaches, however, involve taking an interest in the moral issues that literary texts help to raise. In this class, the topics of especial interest will include class, race, gender, capitalism, immigration, and the set of ideas commonly called the “American Dream.” We will read literary works that date from the early nineteenth through the early twenty-first century. We also will view (but not together in class) a famous American film that many of you may already have seen.

Course Requirements

Exam Info:
Final Type (if any): None
Description: None

Written Work Product
Written Work Product: Each student will be required to write and submit SEVEN short written comments (preferably about 900-1000 words each), one each with respect to any 7 of the 11 assignments for weeks 2 through 12. These comments can cover any aspect(s) of the works that you choose for this purpose, but they should not just express like or dislike of a particular work (although that may be of interest).

Other Work
To further stimulate and guide our discussions: 1) I will provide short lists of possible questions and discussion topics, no later than a week before each class. 2) Each student in the class will serve as a discussion leader (or co-discussion leader) once, and will also, at our final class, verbally offer brief concluding thoughts either about the overall topic (“Law, Social Science, and Literature”), or regarding particular topics or works that we discussed during the semester. Students are encouraged (but not required) to seek advance feedback from me regarding what sorts of topics or questions they might raise on either of these two occasions.

Other Course Details
Prerequisites: None Concurrencies: None
Mutually Exclusive With: None
Laptops Allowed: No
First Day Attendance Required: No
Course Resources: To be announced.
Course Notes:

Graduation Requirements

*Satisfies Writing Requirement: No
**Credits For Prof. Skills Requirement: No
Satisfies Professional Ethics: No

*If “Yes,” then students are required to submit a substantial research paper in this course, which means students do not need to submit any form to SRO for this paper to meet their upper-level writing requirement. If “No,” then students must submit a “special request” e-form to SRO (available via LawWeb) no later than five weeks after the start of the term for a paper in this class to be counted toward the upper-level writing requirement.

**Yes indicates course credits count towards UVA Law’s Prof. Skills graduation requirement, not necessarily a skills requirements for any particular state bar.

Schedule No.
Law No.
Modified Type
Cross Listed: No
Cross-Listed Course Mnemonic:
Public Syllabus Link: None
Evaluation Portal Via LawWeb Opens: Friday, April 21, 12:01 AM
Evaluation Portal Via LawWeb Closes: Sunday, April 30, 11:59 PM