Vanderbilt Law Review

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WE: When organizing this Symposium on the topic of "Law, Literature,and Social Change," we asked whether current trends in literature and in literary, social, and legal theory actually could play a role in bringing about social change. The authors gathered at this Symposium responded to this question in very different ways. As we read their articles and comments, however, and as we talked about their various approaches, some common themes began to emerge. Narrative seemed important. The way people split public life off from private experience came up frequently. But violence seemed to be on everyone's mind.

IT: Why violence?

SHE: It's in our world. Randy DeShaney, who figures prominently in Martha Minow's contribution to this Symposium, beat his three-year-old son Joshua almost to death.

HE: It's in ourselves. Who we are depends on what we exclude.

SHE: A father nearly killed his child and that sort of violence is anything but rare. Millions of women, children, and the elderly are beaten or neglected or sexually abused in this country every year. Violence characterizes the relations of one person with another in less overt ways, too. In the areas where I spend much of my time, it occurs when a physician uses the threat of law to coerce a patient's "compliance" or when a doctor is condescending toward a patient or tries to convince her to act against her wishes. It occurs when a professor humiliates a student. It occurs when a student thinks that the poor are inherently more likely to cheat the government and are less entitled to the security of their homes.