Representing Justice: Course

Representing Justice
Spring 2011 Semester
Professors:   Curtis / Resnik
Credits: 3 Units
Study Gallery
Exhibits Document

The relationship between courts, democracy, and representation is at the center of this course. We will explore facets of ancient adjudication that were proto-democratic–forcing visibility, interaction, and some measure of constraint on governance, as well as generating a tradition that law and justice be marked as a public practice. Our aims include understanding how and why one remnant of the Renaissance–the personification Justice– continues to be legible (as seen from courthouses to cartoons), as well as a site for contestation, while her sibling Virtues have dropped from sight.

This inquiry will consider how democracy changed adjudication as “rites” turned into “rights”–imposing requirements that governments provide “open and public” hearings and respect the independence of judges. We will probe the relationships among courts, the press, and postal services as mechanisms for the dissemination of knowledge about government and for shaping of public sphere(s) and popular cultural representations. Therefore we will engage a range of theorists such as Jeremy Bentham, Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Nancy Fraser, and Jonathan Crary.

A third topic will be the radical import of the twentieth-century premises that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and dignity and to occupy all court roles–litigant, witness, lawyer, juror, judge, staff. That development in turn was both the result and cause for conflicts about the roles to be played by judges and adjudication, including disputes about the colors and shapes of faces and bodies offered up as iconic on local courthouse walls.

If the project of the twentieth century was to open up courts, the question for the twenty-first is what to do with all who seek redress. Contemporary answers provoke a tension between practices of privatization and the history of when Bentham called “publicity”–the purposefully public faces of justice systems. As a consequence, a myriad of contemporary building projects, creating architecturally important courthouses, are at times disjunctive from the daily activities of courts, overwhelmed with problems of access, injustice, opacity, and the complexity of rendering judgments.

To understand the invention, visibility, and vulnerabilities of courts will entail inquiries into reconceptualizations of persons, rights, courts, and governance, trans-temporally in local to national, regional, and transnational institutions. This effort is necessarily an interdisciplinary reflection on the legibility of Justice as well as well as its contemporary counterpart–the monumental, purpose-built segregated space called a courthouse. Thus, this course will be taught in conjunction with the Yale University Art Gallery, whose collections relate to several segments of the class, including (1) representations of Justice and of other Virtues from the sixteenth century through the twentieth; (2) representations of “Justice stories” from the Egyptian Maat through Last Judgment scenes, the once well-known story of the Blinding of Zaleceus, and Kongo Mnikisi figures; (3) documentation of courthouses, through photographers such as William Craft and Robert Adams. Some class sessions will take place at the Gallery and, during a segment of the class, the Gallery will provide displays of relevant materials in part of its fourth floor study gallery space.