Inuit Law and Film

nanookFor the Syllabus from Law 339: Legal Theory Workshop (“Inuit Law and Film”), click 201309 339 Legal Theory Workshop Johnson

For the list of readings for this course, click table of contents – Full Readings List-may

Legal Theory Workshop – “Inuit Law and Film”

The genre of the Western has long been a site of study for North American theorists interested in dominant social stories about the foundations of law.  before tomorrowThe Western, it is argued, has functioned as a site for the social stabilization of a particular set of colonial/capitalist structures of feeling.  While the genre of the Western has certainly had its traction in Canada, Canadian foundational narratives have been shaped less by a notion of ‘the West’, than by a focus on ‘the North’.  Indeed, the North has played an incredibly powerful part in the Canadian National imaginary (as our anthem states, we are “the true North strong and free”).  But this ‘North’ is every bit as marked by histories of colonization as is the US in its relationship to the West. Certainly, the cultural imagery of the North (and of its people) has in the past generally been shaped by southerners. Consider, for example, the portrayal of the Inuit in Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922).  However, the last 20 years has seen a veritable explosion of cultural production by the Inuit themselves (with Inuit TV, and Inuit film production companies). Indeed, one can identify a body of Inuit popular cinema, a cinema which embeds a quite different set of understandings about the space, place and shape of law.  In this workshop, we explore some of the jurisprudential dimensions of this cinema, asking questions about intercultural jurisprudence, by focusing on a group of films either ‘about’ or ‘by’ Inuit communities.  We will explore the extent to which these films offer a rich set of texts of contact and intercultural exchange that open spaces for thinking about (and feeling?) not only the historical record and our own (whomever we are) places in it, but which also invite us to a quite different epistemological and jurisprudential experience of time, place and relation.

Over the term, we will work trans-systemically, attempting to put Canadian and Inuit legal orders into engagement with each other.  We will do so with a focus on ‘cinematic’ texts.  We will be asking a series of questions.  First, we will be asking questions about the narratives we encounter in these films.  That is, we will explore the various aspects of storytelling in cultural tales that seek to persuade us about different ways of understanding law, justice, gender, community and and nation.  To what extent do these stories help make visible differing legal orders, or differing cultural visions of the role of law in society? To what extent do these narrative explanations of the North conflict or accord with Western/commonlaw socio-legal orders?  How do different theories of law, storytelling and rhetoric help us understand these relationships?

Second, we will be focusing on the ways that sound and sight are integrated into various understandings of law and justice (and truth).  We will draw on theoretical, philosophical and practical scholarship about the cinematic realm in order to further explore how these tools of persuasion are related to our understandings of justice.

Third, we will be asking questions about the relationship of the reader/listener/spectator to the object of persuasion.  That is, we will explore not only the objects of persuasion (the opinion, the movie, the sculpture), as if all meaning were resident in the object itself, but will consider also various practices of interpretation, and the place of the reader/spectator/bystander in the co-creation of meaning.

Fourth, we will work on putting these insights to action through individual projects aimed at producing a piece of legal persuasion that draws on audio/visual/cinematic resources.


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