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Minding the Law

Minding the Law

Anthony G. Amsterdam, Jerome Bruner

ISBN 9780674008168

Publication date: 04/30/2002

In this remarkable collaboration, one of the nation's leading civil rights lawyers joins forces with one of the world's foremost cultural psychologists to put American constitutional law into an American cultural context. By close readings of key Supreme Court opinions, they show how storytelling tactics and deeply rooted mythic structures shape the Court's decisions about race, family law, and the death penalty.

Minding the Law explores crucial psychological processes involved in the work of lawyers and judges: deciding whether particular cases fit within a legal rule ("categorizing"), telling stories to justify one's claims or undercut those of an adversary ("narrative"), and tailoring one's language to be persuasive without appearing partisan ("rhetorics"). Because these processes are not unique to the law, courts' decisions cannot rest solely upon legal logic but must also depend vitally upon the underlying culture's storehouse of familiar tales of heroes and villains.

But a culture's stock of stories is not changeless.

Amsterdam and Bruner argue that culture itself is a dialectic constantly in progress, a conflict between the established canon and newly imagined "possible worlds." They illustrate the swings of this dialectic by a masterly analysis of the Supreme Court's race-discrimination decisions during the past century.

A passionate plea for heightened consciousness about the way law is practiced and made, Minding the Law will be welcomed by a new generation concerned with renewing law's commitment to a humane justice.

Praise

  • Most law professors teach by the 'case method,' or say they do. In this fascinating book, Anthony Amsterdam--a lawyer--and Jerome Bruner--a psychologist--expose how limited most case 'analysis' really is, as they show how much can be learned through the close reading of the phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that constitute an opinion (or other pieces of legal writing). Reading this book will undoubtedly make one a better lawyer, and teacher of lawyers. But the book's value and interest goes far beyond the legal profession, as it analyzes the way that rhetoric--in law, politics, and beyond--creates pictures and convictions in the minds of readers and listeners.

    —Sanford Levinson, author of Constitutional Faith

Authors

  • Anthony G. Amsterdam is Judge Edward Weinfeld Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, and a MacArthur Fellow.
  • Jerome Bruner was University Professor at New York University.

Book Details

  • 468 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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