The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons

By Colin Dayan | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT EXTRANEOUS PERSONS. SUBORDINATED AND expelled from society, they take on new shapes: humans, things, dogs, and spirits that are brought together under the umbrella of legal history. Their transformations prompt us to think about what it means to be considered in terms of law. I offer some broad perspectives on metamorphosis, invoking only some of the manifold ways that law dwells on, messes with, and consumes persons. It is through law that persons, variously figured, gain or lose definition, become victims of prejudice or inheritors of privilege. And once outside the valuable discriminations of personhood, their claims become inconsequential.

Law is the protagonist of this plot. The social, economic, and even spiritual practices of remote times persist in legal forms and pronouncements. My treatment of ghostly properties and human and nonhuman animal materials appeals for an understanding of legal reality, lively, ever-present, and reimagined by those outside the guild of lawyers. I see my task as unearthing what Sir Frederick Maitland described as the “dry bones” of law and giving them life in unexpected places. For some readers, it will seem that I make legal effects revel in what is least akin to judicial activities and the operations of law. But the generous reader will, I reckon, follow me on the journey through a series of haunts, sites that recapitulate, if fitfully, the transmutations that are so much a part of legal history.

I seek to know what happens to conventional historical and legal sources when they are pressed to answer unconventional

-xi-

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The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Holy Dogs, Hecuba’s Bark 1
  • 2 - Civil Death 39
  • 3 - Punishing the Residue 71
  • 4 - Taxonomies 113
  • 5 - A Legal Ethnography 138
  • 6 - Who Gets to Be Wanton? 177
  • 7 - Skin of the Dog 209
  • Acknowledgments 253
  • Notes 259
  • Bibliography 303
  • Index 325
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