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Workshop (1 ECTS): ‘Theatres of Law: Policing, Prosecution, and Performance from Plato to YouTube’ – with Julie Stone Peters (Columbia University) and Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas (UvA)

Date: 24 May 2024
Time: 11:15-13:00
Location: Leiden University (Academy Building – Faculty Chamber Law)
Organizers: Yasco Horsman and Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas
Registration: g.e.douliakas2@uva.nl
Registration deadline: May 10th
Credits: 1 ECTS
Public lecture: Julie Stone Peters will also give a keynote lecture, “Staging Witchcraft Before the Law: Skepticism, Performance as Proof, and Law as Magic in Early Modern Witch Trials” (24 May 2024, 14:15-16:00). More information here.

Today, to be “before the law” is to be before the camera: in the streets, interrogation rooms, courtrooms, prison cells; in police bodycams and dashcams, security cameras, courtroom television cameras, bystander phone cameras. At the same time, law streams at us from our screens: celebrity trials, police actions, prison reality shows, COPS…. The media revolutions of the 21st century—internet, phone cameras, social media—have transformed law into round-the-clock theatre.

But the theatre of law is not of course new. Law has always been a domain of demonstrative expression: a visible, audible, kinesthetic, embodied practice that often looks very like theatre. Mass trial audiences, grandstanding lawyers, spectacles of punishment are nearly as old as law itself. So is the cry, “this courtroom is not a theatre!” which calls upon an age-old antimony: law must “be seen to be done”; but if it is “mere theatrics,” it is “not truly law.”

In this workshop, we will explore the history of legal performance and spectatorship across the longue durée: from trials in the ancient agora to policing in the contemporary mediascape. We will read sections from Julie Stone Peters’ Law as Performance: Theatricality, Spectatorship, and the Making of Law in Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Europe (2022), encountering heretics, witches, a trial by combat, and a woman famous for her outrageous courtroom performance (read to find out more!) We will discuss Peters’ overview of law-and-performance scholarship, as it intersects with important theoretical conversations (Derrida, Agamben, Deleuze, Rancière…). And we will workshop her essay-in-progress, “The Video and the Law: Policing, Prosecution, and Performance in the Age of Streaming Media.” Among the questions we will ask:

  • How does the history of legal performance speak to law today (to its violence, to its dreams of transformation)?
  • How might this history shape our approach to doctrinal questions? (should we allow sensational videos in the courtroom? do we have a constitutional right to livestream the police?)
  • What ethics and politics inhere in legal performance and media spectacle in their manifold forms, historic and contemporary? When do they promote access to law, equal protection, and justice? When do they stand as barriers to these?
  • What is the relationship between aesthetic forms (literature, film, visual and performance art, popular media) and law? And what might this tell us about the political power of the aesthetic more generally?
  • How has the world of media in which we live transformed law —what we see, how we see it, and what we still don’t see? And how might AI transform it in the future?

Readings (to be distributed to all who register):

  • Peters, “Legal Performance, Theatricality, and Spectacle” (forthcoming, Elgar Encyclopedia of Law and Literature)
  • Selections from Peters, Law as Performance: Theatricality, Spectatorship, and the Making of Law in Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Europe (2022)
  • Peters, “The Video and the Law: Policing, Prosecution, and Performance in the Age of Streaming Media” (work-in-progress)

Julie Stone Peters is the H. Gordon Garbedian Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, an Affiliated faculty member at Columbia Law School, and a Global Professorial Fellow at Queen Mary University (London) School of Law. Her most recent books are Law as Performance: Theatricality, Spectatorship, and the Making of Law in Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Europe (Oxford UP, 2022) and Staging Witchcraft Before the Law: Skepticism, Performance as Proof, and Law as Magic in Early Modern Witch Trials (forthcoming, Cambridge UP, 2024). Her more public-facing essays have appeared in the New York TimesLondon Review of BooksVillage VoicePublic Books, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a project tentatively titled The Video and the Law.

Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and a Lecturer at Amsterdam University College. He previously held an Adjunct Lecturer post at Leiden University, where he taught courses on Crisis and Literature, and Literature and Law. His PhD project examines the trial of the Golden Dawn as a theatre of justice, focusing on the relations between law, the senses, theatricality, and the media. He is also a translator, translating contemporary American poetry for the Greek literary journal Hartis.

Credit Details

To receive 1 ECTS for this Workshop, PhD students and ReMA students must

  • Attend and participate in the workshop
  • Read the assigned texts and email g.e.douliakas2@uva.nl by May 22nd:
    1. 2-3 questions for discussion;
    2. a brief note about how the readings relate to your research (if they do);
    3. (optional) a relevant image or link to a short video, with a line or two saying what it represents.
  • By 15 June, email e.douliakas2@uva.nl a brief reflection on the workshop and readings (500-800 words).
  • Participants are also strongly encouraged to attend Julie Stone Peters’ lecture: information here.