Legal Research Blog


MIT OpenCourseWare: Law and Society

MIT’s OpenCourseWare
Want to take a course that MIT students have taken? Through the OpenCourseWare initiative you have the ability to develop a program of self study based upon previously held classes. The first course in the series is Law and Society. This anthropology course was held at MIT during the spring of 2003. Our series will focus on law classes but the OpenCourseWare initiative has many classes in numerous disciplines and is well worth checking out on its own.

Happy learning!

Course Materials:

Course Syllabus (PDF)
Additional Materials:

    Course Description:

    Law is a common and yet distinct aspect of everyday life in modern societies. This course examines the central features of law as a social institution and as a feature of popular culture. We will explore the nature of law as a set of social systems, central actors in the systems, legal reasoning, and the relationship of the legal form and reasoning to social change. The course emphasizes the relationship between the internal logic of legal devices and economic, political and social processes. Emphasis is placed upon developing a perspective which views law as a practical resource, a mechanism for handling the widest range of unspecified social issues, problems, and conflicts, and at the same time, as a set of shared representations and aspirations.

    We will explore the range of experiences of law for its ministers (lawyers, judges, law enforcement agents and administrators) as well as for its supplicants (citizens, plaintiffs, defendants). We will examine how law is mobilized and deployed by professionals and ordinary citizens. We cannot cover all aspects of the legal system, nor focus on all the different actors. A set of topics has been selected to develop understanding of the situational and systemic demands within which actors in the legal system operate and perform their roles; at the same time, we will try to discover systematic patterns in the uses and consequences of law. Throughout the course there is concern for understanding what we mean by legality and the rule of law.

    Update from Wikimania 2008

    Every year, the Wikimedia Foundation hosts a conference for Wiki contributors and enthusiasts worldwide, and this week, it is being held in Alexandria, Egypt. Wikimania, as the annual get together is now dubbed, is a forum for innovation and brainstorming, and a soap box from which Wikipedia can promote freedom of expression and information. Alexandria, home of an ancient classical library that had once attempted to assemble all of the world’s knowledge under its roof, is an apt location for Wikimania. Today, the new Alexandria library is trying to live up to the city’s reputation as a center of learning, amassing Arabic texts in digital format to establish itself as a library of the future.

    Wikipedia junkies from throughout the Middle East were invited to partake in Wikimania 2008, which has dedicated a good deal of time to issues specifically related to Arabic Wikipedia. Some controversy was stirred up by several reporters, who questioned Wikipedia’s commitment to the Arabic version (which is tiny in comparison to the English, which has over 25 million posts), and who took an interest in the presence of Israeli contributors at the conference. The administrators of the Arabic Wikipedia site maintained that it was the responsibility of the users and public to make greater contributions, and that the collaborative process can take time. As for the two Israelis in attendance, while they did run into some skepticism from their Arab counterparts, their Arabic language fluency and desire to work and learn from the meeting’s cultural

    dialogue eased the tension.

    Most importantly, the conference addressed the urgent need for the dissemination of knowledge and freedom of speech in the region. The presence of the Israeli wikipedians was evidence enough of the site’s commitment to incorporating the valid content of any contributor, regardless of perspective or philosophy. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also graced the conference with an analysis of the current threat to the project in Egypt itself, where President Mubarak has been known to imprison bloggers and restrict the press.

    But despite Wikimania’s message of free expression, the traditional liberty accorded Wikipedia posting may be tightening. Wiki has recently begun to tackle the plague of vandalism that has hit several of the Wiki sites. German articles have been especially prone to bogus posts, and so German Wikipedia has chosen to implement a system of “checks” which must take place before any article is viewed by the public. Administrators hope that the process will only be a temporary measure to discourage bad posts, rather than a permanent method of censorship. Jimmy Wales hopes this will allow Wikipedia to eventually feature “stable” versions of articles as well.

    We here at Fastcase are all in favor of the democratization of information, and look forward to Wikipedia’s future on the world stage.

    Source: The New York Times

    Flint Saggy Pants Law Stays the Course

    On June 26th, the green police chief of Flint, Michigan announced that the city now has the authority to arrest young men for their sagging pants, labeling the fashion trend indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. A violation can lead to jail time and a hefty fine, although since its inception, the Flint police have only issued warnings. The officers assert that they are committed to spreading word of the new law to make sure that potential offenders are informed.

    The move by Chief David Dicks has been a controversial one, sparking both criticism and skepticism from the community and civil rights activists. Some worry that the law will disproportionately target young African American males, while many teenagers argue that it is a valid style choice. One 16 year old states to the Detroit Free Press:

    “If I pay for my pants, I should be able to wear them how I want to.”

    The ACLU also opposes the ordinance, and issued a letter to the city threatening legal action should it stay on the books. The ACLU deadline has now passed, and Dicks has not relented; it may only be a matter of time until a suit is filed. Gregg Gibbs, an ACLU lawyer in Flint, states that the code is a violation of the 1st Amendment, criminalizing a “style of dress” based on Dicks’ personal preference. But many also oppose the law from a practical standpoint, arguing that it diverts valuable resources and police manpower from tackling the city’s crippling crime rate.

    “Some people call it a fad. But I believe it’s a national nuisance. It is indecent and thus it is indecent exposure, which has been on the books for years.”

    How do you feel about the sagging pants phenomenon? Let us know in the comments.

    US Opens First War Crimes Trial Since WWII

    The trial of Salim Hamdan, former driver of Osama bin Laden, began this week in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba making history for a number of reasons. Hamdan’s trial is the first of a number of US war crimes trials that will prosecute prisoners allegedly involved in the attacks on September 11th and also the first of its kind in over 60 years. It has taken nearly seven years to begin the trials but time has not made the court forget its responsibility to the judicial system. The honorable Judge Keith Allred made a point to remind all potential jurors that their previous knowledge and feelings about the attacks on America can not be involved in their deliberation.

    The trial has started out slowly beginning with an official not guilty plea from Hamdan and now has moved onto jury selection. Considering the nature of the case, it is necessary that both the judge and jurors are military officers. The prosecution and defense must agree on at least 5 of those chosen by the Pentagon to serve on the jury panel for the trial. In addition to the reminder issued by Allred, he was also sure to strike any evidence he considered to be gathered inappropriately. With emotions still running high from the 9/11 attacks and questions lingering about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, it will be hard for the landmark case to stay out of the spotlight. It is clear though from Allred’s various decisions, he would like the trial to move forward quickly and remain as non-controversial as possible.

    Source: ABC News

    Courts Address Sleeping Disorders

    American’s suffering from sleep disorders can rest easy now that the D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of considering the disabilities under the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Those suffering from a lack of sleep have seen employers question for years the legitimacy of their claims, considering none severe enough to qualify as a disability.

    In the case of Desmond v. Mukasey, FBI special agent trainee Martin Desmond accused the FBI of discriminating against him for a sleep disorder he developed from his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Desmond worked with a number of FBI officials to treat his condition and applied for a location transfer in order to relieve some of his symptoms to no avail. Ultimately, Desmond was kept from graduating from the special agent program sparking the lawsuit into action. The suit purported that the FBI refused to recognize Desmond’s inability to sleep as a viable disorder and that discrimination ensued.

    The court ruled in favor of Desmond and set the precedent that all employers must consider sleep disorders in the same light as all other disabilities. For sufferers, the affect of the loss of sleep will have no bearing on whether or not it is considered a disability. Any person receiving only 2 to 4 hours of sleep a night for a period of at least 5 months is considered to suffer from a disorder that affects “major life activity”. Upon this decision, anyone suffering from a sleep disorder has the right to invoke any and all provisions under both the Rehabilitation as well as the Americans with Disabilities Acts without further scrutiny.