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LSJ 363 A: Law In Society

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:00am - 10:20am
GWN 201
Erin Marie Adam

Syllabus Description:

Instructor: Erin Adam, JD                                                                                  

Office Hours: TBD


Office: GWN 142                                                                                                           


University of Washington

Department of Political Science/Law, Societies, and Justice

POLS/LSJ 363: Law in Society

M/W 9:00-10:20AM, GWN 201


Course Description: What is law?  Where do we find law?  How does law matter?  This class explores these fundamental questions about the roles that law plays in organizing contemporary social life by exploring both the law as a solution to collective problems and the law as the cause of social violence.  Some of the topics covered in this course include: the use of the law in the Civil Rights Movement, legal solutions to violence against women, police coercion, mass incarceration, and the death penalty. We will consider various ways of understanding how law shapes and enables social interaction and disputing, how law constructs differences among people and their actions, and how law mediates, enforces, and at times alters historical power relationships. Special attention will be given to three sets of relationships: (1) between legal discourse/talk and legal practice; (2) between legal rights, social identity, and community; and (3) between law and violence.  Our inquiries will examine official legal institutions (courts) and actors (judges, police, lawyers, etc.), but the class will emphasize how law works as a complex array of norms, symbols, discourses, and practices that infuse and shape all aspects of social life. In short, we will explore how we are all legal actors as well as legal subjects.  Case materials will focus on the United States but also draw on comparative, cross-national, and global perspectives.


There are no formal prerequisites for this class, although a basic knowledge of American politics and social organization will be assumed.  This is not a preparatory course for law school; the understandings that this course cultivates are shaped by distinctive social scientific and humanistic modes of inquiry that are very different from those approaches privileged in the bulk of law school curricula.  My goal is to encourage you to “think about law as an engaged citizen” rather than to “think like a lawyer.” The course materials, course readings, and course structure are modeled after Professor Michael McCann’s POLS/LSJ 363 Law in Society course.


Course Objectives:

  • To develop your theoretical capacities to recognize, understand, and analyze the complexities of law in social practice.
  • To develop your general capacities for rigorously analytical, critical, and imaginative thought.
  • To encourage your capacity to read and synthesize diverse texts.
  • To improve your capacity to write effectively.
  • To encourage and improve your capacities for engagement in civic dialogue.


Course Readings: A course website can be accessed in Catalyst (website will be constructed by the first day of the Spring Quarter). The course syllabus,short readings, lecture outlines, study questions, and other materials can be found there.

Three types of texts are required for this class. 

  1. Course Book (Available at UW Bookstore,, etc.): One required book is available at the University Book Store: Stuart Scheingold, The Politics of Rights: Lawyers, Public Policy, and Political Change, 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: MI, University of Michigan Press (2004).
  2. Course Readings (Available Online): Most other required readings (designated by an asterisk * on the syllabus) are available on the course website.  You can print them all at once, print them each day, or read them in electronic format.  But you must keep up with these readings and I require you to bring the scheduled readings, in some format, to class each day. Some additional short texts (e.g., timely news articles) may be emailed to you and/or added to the website during the course.
  3. Videos (Viewed In Class and Available Online): We will discuss two movies during the class. You will need to watch one movie, The Thin Blue Line (directed by Errol Morris), before the class it is assigned in. This movie is currently streaming on Netflix and can be rented through for $2.99. Part of another movie, Hot Coffee, will be viewed in class. Students will be given a list of questions and themes to think about in advance of viewing these movies; engagement with these texts will be required for informed participation in class as well as for completion of the paper assignments.  We will view many YouTube videos during the quarter, especially in the second half of the class; all videos listed on the class website are considered required text.  

In addition to the required texts, students are strongly urged to keep current with national and local events.  The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor are highly recommended along with local news sources.  These and other resources available on the Internet are also very useful and will be referenced in class.


Grading: Grading for this course will be based on section participation, 2 in-class quizzes, and a final paper. 

 Section Participation:              10%

1st Quiz:                                 25%    

2nd Quiz:                                30%    

Final Paper:                             35%    

Your final grade will be calculated based on the above. I underline that you must earn your grade by the quality of the work that you perform.  An effort has been made to provide different types of graded performance activities, which reflects an awareness that different people perform differently on different exercises. I urge you to work hard and try your best, but the truth is that students will in the end perform at widely variable levels. I will strive to be as fair as I can in evaluating your work.  I also care that you are performing as well as you are capable in the class.  If you are having trouble in the course, I strongly encourage you to contact me immediately, during office hours or by email, for assistance. I cannot help you if you do not request help.

Detailed instructions will be outlined in advance on the course website for each of the assignments and exams.  It is your responsibility to follow the directions. Late completion of assignments and exams will be penalized by 5% each day (excluding weekends and holidays).  Deadline extensions and make-up exams are only permitted in well-documented emergency situations.

Catalog Description: 
Inquiry into how law matters in social practice. Examines general theories of law, the workings of legal institutions, and the character of legally constituted practices and relationships in diverse terrains of social life. Instructor: McCann. Offered: jointly with POL S 363.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
April 28, 2016 - 3:27pm