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LAPA Seminar

Michael McCann, LAPA/Crane Fellow; University of Washington

"Beyond Legal Mobilization: Rethinking Rights and Power"

February 27, 2012, 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall

We hope you will join us for a LAPA Seminar on February 27 with Michael McCann, the Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship at the University of Washington, to discuss "Beyond Legal Mobilization: Rethinking Rights and Power," co-authored with George Lovell, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington.  The commentator is Paul Frymer, Associate Professor of Politics at Princeton.

Abstract:  Our paper both demonstrates the merits of legal mobilization analysis and points toward significant developments that can deepen the framework's analysis of power.  We begin with a thumbnail sketch demonstrating the insights that a bottom-up, activist centered approach yields about the contentious politics surrounding the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Wards Cove v Atonio (1989).  The analytical narrative revolves around how a group of young Filipino activists in the 1970s used civil rights litigation to challenge the plantation organization of Alaskan salmon canneries, to catalyze democratic reform of a corrupt union local, and to help depose Philippine despot Ferdinand Marcos. Our legal mobilization interpretation reveals a complex story of judicial defeat, legally leveraged political triumph, and tragic death by assassination. In the remainder of the paper, we consider the merits of revising the legal mobilization framework by expanding the temporal, spatial, and policy scope of analysis, underlining in particular the dialectical interactions of subaltern and dominant groups over long periods of time. We draw on our developing book-length social history of immigrant Filipino cannery workers over eighty years to explore three themes: 1) rethinking the presumed agency of historically constructed subjects; 2) exploring how struggles over specific rights claims routinely entail contestation over whom dominant groups recognize as qualified (or unqualified) for standing as disciplined rights-bearing citizen-subjects; 3) and illustrating the deep interdependence between the modalities of autonomous (liberal)law and repressive law in contemporary legal orders. The paper concludes by outlining some implications of our inquiry for arguments by contemporary critical theorists regarding the pathologies and possibilities of rights-based "identity politics."

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Kerstetter Room, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.  The paper will be available soon.

Michael McCann is Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship at the University of Washington. He served as founding Director of the Law, Societies, and Justice program and the Comparative Law and Society Studies (CLASS) Center as well as chair of the Political Science Department at UW.  He is the author of Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization (Chicago, 1994) and (with William Haltom) Distorting the Law: Politics, Media, and the Litigation Crisis (Chicago, 2004).  McCann is also editor and lead author for Law and Social Movements (Dartmouth/Ashgate, 2006); and co-editor, with David Engel, of Fault Lines: Tort Law as Cultural Practice (Stanford, 2009).  He is currently co-authoring two books on law and struggles for egalitarian change as well as serving (2011-13) as President of the Law and Society Association. A winner of a university-wide distinguished teaching award and mentor to many students, Michael is conducting research and teaching as Crane/LAPA Fellow in the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton in 2011-12.

Paul Frymer teaches and writes on topics in American law and politics, particularly as they intersect with issues of democratic representation, race and civil rights, and labor and employment. He is a former LAPA fellow (2004-2005), as well as Acting Director (2009-2010). He is the author of two books: Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America (reissued in 2010 with an afterward on President Obama's election) and Black and Blue: African Americans, the Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party (2008), both of which were published by Princeton University Press. He has also either authored or is currently writing about topics ranging from legal understandings of political parties to the racial politics of Hurricane Katrina and affirmative action to the role of law and politics in the historical development of American territorial expansion.