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Christian DELAGE

A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age. Eds. by Danielle Celermajer (Professor Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney) & Richard Sherwin (Wallace Stevens Professor of Law, NYU), Bloomsbury Publishing, London.


Chapter 1, Justice: Desmond Manderson, Future Fellow, Australian National University College of Law and ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.

Chapter 2, Constitution: Craig Elliott, Senior Anthropologist, Central Land Council, Northern Territory, Australia, has held teaching positions at Australian National University and University of Canberra.

Chapter 3, Codes/norms: James Parker, Director: Law, Sound and the International at the Institute for International Law and the Humanities, University of Melbourne Law School.

Chapter 4, Agreements: Diana Taylor, University Professor, Performance Studies and Spanish, Founding Director, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, New York University.

Chapter 5, Arguments/rhetoric: Susan Schuppli, Visual artist, Acting Director & Senior Lecturer, Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Chapter 6, Property and possession: Alison Young, Professor in the Faculty of Arts, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Chapter 7, Wrongs: Joshua Oppenheimer, Oscar-nominated American film director based in Copenhagen, Denmark (‘The Act of Killing’ [2012]; ‘The Look of Silence [2014]).

Chapter 8, The Legal Profession: Christian Delage, Professor at the University Paris 8, Sciences Po Paris, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, and Visiting Professor of Law, Cardozo Law School; filmmaker


The period since the First World War has been a century distinguished for truth, ethics, and the legitimate authority of law. With the emergence of radical pluralism, law has become the site of extraordinary creativity and, on occasion, a source of rights for those historically excluded from its protection.

A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age tells the story of human struggles in the face of state authority – including Aboriginal land claims, popular resistance to corporate power, and state violence. The essays address how, and with what effects, different expressive modes (ceremonial dance, live street theater, the acoustics of radio, the affective range of film, to name a few) help to construct, memorialize, and disseminate political and legal meaning.

Drawing upon a wealth of visual, textual and sound sources, A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age presents essays that examine key cultural case studies of the period on the themes of justice, constitution, codes, agreements, property and possession, wrongs, and the legal profession.

CHAPTER 8: Christian Delage, "Legal Profession: Beaten Black and Blue–Lessons from Watching the Rodney King Case, p. 169-186".

Delage extends the exploration of visual media by examining how techniques of visual and verbal narration can be used in court to constitute (and re-constitute or annul) the meaning of racialized violence. Delage's exploration of these issues reverberates within the tortured history of racial discrimination in the United States. Representations of this history over the last century range from popular literary and cinematic figures like Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird, who heroically stands up in court against the injustice of racial prejudice, to TV images of trial of African-American football hero and pop culture figure O. J. Simpson. In the later instance, Simpson oscillates, pardoxically, betwee, celebrity, perpetrator (of a double homicide), and victim (of endemic police racism). Against this cultural backdrop, Delage probes the criminal trial of the four white Los Angeles police officers who were fortuitously filmed by an amateur videographer as they surrounded and furiously beat African-American motorist Rodney King follwoing a high-speed chase on a California freeway. But what do these images show? Did the twelve jurors in court (not to mention the millions of citizens across the US who watched the televised proceedings as jurors in the court of public opinion) witness a racially motivated, morally abhorrent exercise of excessive state violence, or the professional 'elevation' and 'de-elevation' of force based on established norms of police training.

In drawing out the unprecedented challenges presented by the spectacle of 'trial by image' in the age of digital mass media; Delage raises difficult pratical and ethical questions regarding the serach for truth in contemporary, image-saturated courtrooms. How should trial lawyers go about the business of examining and cross-examining visual images along with the narratives strategically devised to amplify their putative truths? In its reflexive framing of the law's various accounts of alleged racial violence against Rondy Kingn this chapter underscores how visual literacy (or its absence) affects the development and outcome of legal conflicts in contemporary society. In so doing, it also highlights a broader claim of this volume, namely: that literacy or tis absence in any discrete expressive mode of communication is bound to have significant effects on the adjudicatory process. And so, in the end, we reencounter a theme sounded at the beginning–judgments cannot be adequately understood apart from the tools we use to make them.