Making Rights Real: Activists, Bureaucrats, and the Creation of the Legalistic State

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It's a common complaint: the United States is overrun by rules and procedures that shackle professional judgment, have no valid purpose, and serve only to appease courts and lawyers. Charles R. Epp argues, however, that few Americans would want to return to an era without these legalistic policies, which in the 1970s and 1980s helped bring recalcitrant bureaucracies into line with a growing national commitment to civil rights and individual dignity.

Focusing on three disparate policy areas-workplace sexual harassment, playground safety, and police brutality in both the United States and the United Kingdom-Epp explains how activists and administrative professionals used legal liability, lawsuit-generated publicity, and innovative managerial ideas to pursue the implementation of new rights. Where previous analyses cast rights policies as symbolic responses to vague legal mandates, Making Rights Real shows how interaction between social activists and reform-oriented managers fostered frameworks that made institutions accountable through intricate rules, employee training, and managerial oversight. Explaining how these practices became ubiquitous across bureaucratic organizations, Epp casts today's legalistic state in an entirely new light.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert A. Kagan
“Charles Epp’s carefully researched, lucidly written book shines a clear light into the heated but murky debates about litigation in the United States. Making Rights Real is the best study of the social benefits that flow from American adversarial legalism, illustrating how the conjunction of litigation and the agendas of reform-oriented professionals have improved urban policing and municipal government.”
William Haltom
“An elegant study that combines historical, comparative, and at times even ethnographic learning, Making Rights Real reveals how fervor for professionalism and fears of lawsuits together shaped police policies and practices in the United States and in Britain as well as responses to sexual harassment and the safety of playgrounds. It will be indispensible for scholars of the law.”
Malcolm M. Feeley
“Charles Epp has produced another important book, this one documenting how courts can make effective social policy. Making Rights Real will force judicial scholars to clarify their thinking about the hollow hope of judicially induced change and the limits of adversarial legalism. Its exploration of how federal trial courts have led police departments to successfully restructure themselves is a masterpiece. Scholars in several fields—political science, public policy, law, organization theory, criminal justice—will find this a must-read book.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226211640
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2010
  • Series: Chicago Series in Law and Society Series
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles R. Epp is associate professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Kansas.

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Table of Contents



2 Theory: The Fertile Fear of Liability

3 The Problem with Policing

4 Liability’s Triumph

5 Policing’s Epiphany

6 Spreading the Word: Variations among Police Departments

7 Tort Liability and Police Reform in Britain

8 Sexual Harassment

9 Playground Safety

10 Conclusion

Methodological Appendix




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