CRIM 430. Law and Dissent

Law and social change. Law as technology of criminalizing and co-opting social movements.  Mechanisms for appealing to State for rights and recognition. Civil disobedience, policing protests, and political prisoners. (Prerequisites: CRIM 225 or CRIM 225s or SOC 225s and Exclude Frosh and Soph).

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lorde

To dissent is to think or feel differently, to “hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed.” This course critically examines the relationship between the law and dissent from a variety of perspectives. The law is a central arena for creating social change through litigation and policy reform. However, the relationship between the law and social movements is complex and contested. We will explore the tension between law as a tool of social change and as a technology for criminalizing and co-opting social movements. What are the advantages and disadvantages of appealing to the State for rights, protection and recognition? How are movements limited by a focus on formal legal equality? Do appeals to the State for recognition bolster the very systems that produce precarity and violence? In this course, we will explore these questions in relation to historical and contemporary social movements. Additionally, we will engage topics such as the relationship between the social problems process and law, legal mobilization theory, civil disobedience, policing protests, and political imprisonment.


James, Joy (editor). Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy. Particularly Chapters 6, 8, 7

Spade, Dean. Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law.

Dan Berger. The Struggle Within. Oakland: PM Press.

Sarat, Austin (Editor). Dissent in Dangerous Times. University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Thoreau, Henry David, Civil Disobedience.

Lovell, Jarret S, Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience. New York: NYU Press.