Integrating Humanities into Family Law and the Problem with Truths Universally Acknowledged

17 Feb 2012 02:55pm Carol Sanger 

 

This piece was written for a program held by the American Association of Law Schools Section on Law and Humanities, "Excavating and Integrating Law and Humanities in the Core Curriculum," on January 5, 2012.

I spend a full month on marriage in Family Law, and I use a fair range of what I'll call "extrinsic evidence" from the humanities. Because there is so much one could use, I am fairly strict with myself about what I do use. It seems important that when we take the time to introduce new materials, it should not be just a matter of word association football ("this novel reminds me of this case"), but rather that the materials connect to larger themes around which the doctrinal topics are wrapped or from which legal rules emerge. In Family Law these themes include the relation between family and market structures; Family Law as a reflection of contemporary social values on race, gender, and everything else; constitutional limitations on the regulation of intimate relationships; and the politics of Family Law and law reform. Connection to these larger themes provides one way of sorting and sifting the wealth of material from which one might choose.

However, I want to suggest a different reason why I am willing to take time away from doctrine and case law to spend it in the humanities. My suggestion is this: The humanities expand the imagination so that students can understand lives that are not like their own. The lives presented in novels or recounted in interviews may not be like the lives of our students because of when (or sometimes where) the two sets of lives are lived. They may not be like their own because of cultural differences, or because of the sometimes inexplicable nature of preferences and the choices that people make with regard to intimate relationships. This imaginative reach toward understanding different lives, times, or preferences is important in a number of ways.

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