Let me begin by registering three points of emphatic agreement with Austin Sarat's invigorating remarks. First, like Sarat, I believe that bringing the humanities to, and into, the law is not a matter of "uplift and inspiration," though it is often so understood. Such an anodyne model of the "Law and Humanities" movement ultimately trivializes the interrogative force of the humanities while changing nothing in the practice of legal thinking. Second, I agree that currently the humanistic study of the law remains very much a handmaiden of legal studies, if not more accurately a scullery maid. Finally, I think an undergraduate liberal arts program that includes attention to the law and legal thinking is in itself very desirable.
Nonetheless, I fear that Sarat's proposal of a "cultural studies of law" risks giving us a formula for impotence. I say this in part because I believe the cultural studies model offers no panacea. In the humanities, we have seen cultural studies become a kind of hotel lobby where all disciplines can hang out, brought together in a self-satisfied discourse on the implication of knowledge with power, on the marginal and the hegemonic; a somewhat desultory conversation at times because cultural studies as a field or a metadiscipline has not really proposed any powerful new theory or analytic model. I overstate the case - much animating work has been done in the name of cultural studies - because I think there is a mirage effect in the very label of cultural studies, whereas when you get to the field of practice, you find little that provides a unifying and productive paradigm for the field.
A Slightly Polemical Comment on Austin Sarat,
Yale J.L. & Human.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol10/iss2/8