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Law and Community in Three American Towns / Edition 1

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Many commentators on the contemporary United States believe that current rates of litigation are a sign of decay in the nation's social fabric. Law and Community in Three American Towns explores how ordinary people in three towns—located in New England, the Midwest, and the South—view the law, courts, litigants, and social order.

Carol J. Greenhouse, Barbara Yngvesson, and David M. Engel analyze attitudes toward law and law users as a way of commentating on major American myths and ongoing changes in American society. They show that residents of "Riverside," “Sander County,” and “Hopewell” interpret litigation as a sign of social decline, but they also value law as a symbol of their local way of life. The book focuses on this ambivalence and relates it to the deeply-felt tensions express between “community” and “rights” as rival bases of society.

The authors, two anthropologists and a lawyer, each with an understanding of a particular region, were surprised to discover that such different locales produced parallel findings. They undertook a comparative project to find out why ambivalence toward the law and law use should be such a common refrain. The answer, they believe, turns out to be less a matter of local traditions than of the ways that people perceive the patterns of their lives as being vulnerable to external forces of change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"As established scholars in the field of law-and-society, these three authors have studied the interrelation between law and community in three locales in New England, the Midwest, and the South. Using interviews and case studies, they explore the links between the cultural ideas of individualism and community. Their more specific focus is on the role of law and of the courts in the cultural framework of their selected communities. A principal conclusion is that 'community' is 'a term that expresses a modern retrenchment against new forms of pluralism in the United States.' The text is clearly written and contains useful and up-to-date bibliography."—Choice (March 1995)

Library Journal
Many commentators on the contemporary United States believe that current rates of litigation are a sign of decay in the nation's social fabric. This book explores how ordinary people in three towns view the law, courts, litigants, and sense of social order. The authors are concerned about how symbolic distinctions between ``insiders'' and ``outsiders'' emerge out of local cultural patterns. One striking finding is that the sense of community in the three towns is a reaction to modern notions of pluralism. In a brief introduction, the authors, two anthropologists and a lawyer, present a useful guide to the field of ``legal anthropology,'' which developed only in this century. The authors note that, while their examination of life in American towns is not really unique, theirs is the first to focus entirely on the role of law and legal institutions. Although based on three originally independent studies, this book developed into a unified text with useful findings. Recommended to both scholars and interested lay readers.-Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801481697
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240

Meet the Author

Carol Greenhouse is the Arthur W. Marks professor and department Chair of Anthropology at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Ethnographic Issues 1
Pt. 1 Ethnographic Studies 25
Ch. 1 The Oven Bird's Song: Insiders, Outsiders, and Personal Injuries in an American Community 27
Ch. 2 Making Law at the Doorway: The Clerk, the Court, and the Construction of Community in a New England Town 54
Ch. 3 Courting Difference: Issues of Interpretation and Comparison in the Study of Legal Ideologies 91
Pt. 2 Law, Values, and the Discourse of Community 111
Ch. 4 Avoidance and Involvement 117
Ch. 5 Connection and Separation 133
Ch. 6 History and Place 149
Conclusion: The Paradox of Community 172
Notes 193
References 209
Index 219
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