Boycott in America: How Imagination and Ideology Shape the Legal Mind

Boycott in America: How Imagination and Ideology Shape the Legal Mind

Boycott in America: How Imagination and Ideology Shape the Legal Mind

Boycott in America: How Imagination and Ideology Shape the Legal Mind


Gary Minda's critical study of boycotts in American law and culture focuses on how the word boycott has developed as a metaphoric, rather than as a rational or logical, form of reasoning. Minda first discusses the history, interpretation, and understanding of boycotts. He then turns to the role of metaphor in the interpretation of boycotts and of boycott law.

Drawing on cognitive psychology and linguistic theory, Minda argues that the metaphors judges choose in describing boycotts determine how they view boycotts: "(F)rom the very first time the word boycott appeared in a reported decision in America, judges have used the word to signify inflammatory, as well as sublime, legal meanings and connotations. Judges have compared group boycotts to 'bloodthirsty tigers' and they have analyzed boycott activity as if it were a 'disease' infecting the internal biological system of the body. Judges have compared group boycotts to 'soapbox oratory, ' and they have concluded that boycott activity is a 'special form of,political communication.'"

For lawyers, judges, and legal scholars, this book provides a clear and cogent examination of boycott law. Linguistic and cognitive theorists should find the book useful for illustrating how metaphor and cognitive theory can be used to analyze legal opinions. Historians will find new histories of boycott. Lay readers interested in understanding the role of boycotts in American law and society will find the book insightful.


This book EXAMINES how imagination and ideologyshape the legal meaning of a word, boycott, in the law. As thisbook explains, boycott, the word, has taken on different substantive legalmeanings as judges and lawyers have created different imaginative andnormative understandings of boycott phenomena. These different imaginative understandings of boycott are the result of a reasoning process thatrelies upon prototypes, basic level categories, and conceptual metaphorsto classify and categorize phenomena. The cognitive effects of legal imagination have remained concealed within law's official forms of reason,until now.

My basic thesis is that we can better understand how the ideology oflaw operates in boycott adjudications by considering the important cognitive role of legal imagination. What brought me to the study of the wordboycott, was an off-the-cuff remark by Justice Stevens in a famous civilrights boycott case, NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982).In that case, Justice Stevens warned that "a court must be wary of a claimthat the true color of a forest is better revealed by reptiles hidden in theweeds than by the foliage of countless freestanding trees" (458 U.S. at 934).Justice Stevens went on to remark that the word boycott was one of thosewords like conspiracy that, in the law, had a chameleon-like character (i.e.,the word was capable of changing its meaning from context to context).These rather mystifying statements begged a nagging question: Why didJustice Stevens choose the metaphor of a chameleon to define what hemeant by boycott, and what did he mean by his warning that a courtshould be wary of a reptile hidden in the weeds of the law?

In thinking about this, I soon realized that the clues for explaining themystery of the word boycott were to be found not in the foreground of alegal text or opinion, but rather, in the background world of legal imagi-

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