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Entries from September 2008

Harvard Legal Theory Forum Organizational Logistics Memo

September 20th, 2008 · Comments Off on Harvard Legal Theory Forum Organizational Logistics Memo

Thanks to everybody who was able to come to the meeting on Thursday. We discussed the structural features of the group, and I think that we’re ready to start existing!


The online poll that you should fill out if you wish to join any of the activities, take on an administrative roll, or express a preference about meeting time or faculty adviser is located here:




At the meeting, we decided that we would engage in the following activities:


HLTF Legal Theory Reading Group: We will meet every other week this fall to discuss (1) a canonical essay on legal theory and (2) a contemporary essay on a similar issue. For each meeting, a member will volunteer to moderate the discussion. 


The basis for the canonical essays will be Terry Fisher and David Kennedy’s book, The Canon of American Legal Thought, but if some members feel that there are important legal theory texts missing from this collection, we might supplement it. The articles that make up the book are listed here along with links that any Harvard student should be able to use to access the articles. (The one article not on this list is: Catherine A. MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward a Feminist Jurisprudence,” 8 Signs: Journal of Women, Culture and Society 635 (1983).) 


If you wish to be part of the reading group and think that something is being left out, please e-mail me soon and let me know—notable thinkers whose work has significantly impacted American legal philosophy whose writings do not appear in this book include Hans Kelsen, H.L.A. Hart, Joseph Raz, and John Finnis.


For each meeting the moderator (with input from the group) will select a contemporary essay (probably something written within the past decade) and may edit it for length. We hope to avoid having excessive reading. 


This is not a class, but we hope to have a consistent group for these meetings, since there will be some thematic and chronological continuity from meeting to meeting, so anyone who wishes to join this group should attempt to attend every, or almost every, meeting.


HLTF Colloquia: From time to time (but not any more frequently than every other week), students or professors may present works in progress. These presentations do not need to be connected with the topics being discussed in the reading group. We will contact professors to see if they might be interested in workshopping any of their works in progress. We can also contact PhD, SJD, LLM, and JD students to offer a venue in which they may be able to present substantial papers on which they are working. If you are interested in participating in these discussions, please fill you this form


These colloquia will be open to anyone who is interested in attending, and papers should be circulated at least a week in advance. Members of the reading group need not attend the colloquia if they do not wish to do so, but we will attempt to schedule the colloquia so that everyone who is part of the reading group will be able to participate them and will not be overwhelmed by reading.


After discussions with quite a few people who were not at the meeting and who expressed a strong interest in doing some theory that is related to law but not specifically legal (and in making less of a commitment to attend meetings), I think it would be worthwhile to undertake the following activity as well:


HLTF Social Theory Discussion Group: From time to time (but not any more frequently than every other week), students will meet to discuss social, political, or literary theory (that is, not specifically legal theory) that has a connection to law. If you are interested in participating in these discussions, please fill out this form.


Any student who wishes to lead such a discussion may propose to do so and then assemble readings (in the range of 20-40 pages) and make them available at least 1 week before the discussion. If there are a large number of requests for such discussions, we can have a poll to select topics. 


These discussions can be open to anyone who is interested, as there will be less of a trajectory than will be present in the reading group. Members of the reading group need not attend the occasional discussions if they do not wish to do so. 


Future Activities: In the future, we may publish a series of Occasional or Working Papers, but we can decide this later.




I will pick a time for reading group meetings that accommodates as many people as possible..


I will retain information about preferences for times for social theory discussion group and colloquia meetings, and will use this information throughout the semester in scheduling these events..


The lunch hour and the evening after 7 are both possibilities, but it may be difficult to have discussions for more than an hour if we opt for lunchtime meetings. Either way, I think there is a reasonably good chance that we could provide or subsidize food for the reading group meetings.


Meeting Location


Meetings will, for the time being, be held at the law school. We will try our best to find meeting rooms that are suitable for discussions (rather than rooms with theater-type seating). If we have difficulty obtaining such rooms, students in GSAS may be able to help us find rooms in CGIS or other buildings. 




Jonathan was selected as Chair for the organization at the meeting.


Additional positions that are available if anyone wishes to fill them are:


Treasurer: The treasurer is responsible for the HLTF budget and communicates with the Dean of Students about the budget. This is the one position that we need to have in addition to a Chair to fulfill DOS requirements for a student organization.


Colloquia Director: This person would be responsible for approaching faculty and asking them to present works in progress to the forum and publicizing the existence of the Forum to graduate and law students so that they know it is a venue in which they might workshop their writing on legal theory.


Social Theory Discussions Director: This person would be responsible for coordinating and scheduling the Social Theory Discussions. This person will solicit ideas for topics and readings to discuss and will find volunteers to prepare readings for discussion group meetings and moderate discussions.


Communications Director: This person would be in charge of a website and managing an email list and for arranging logistics for distributing readings to the group in advance of meetings.


If there are any other administrative roles that anyone would like to volunteer to take up, that would also be fine. Please email Jonathan if you have an idea for another administrative position that you would like to fill.




If enough people want to buy a copy of the Kennedy and Fisher book, I can contact the Coop to see if they can order some. Alternatively, we may be able to get funding to have articles that appear in the book reproduced by the distribution center, although some people may prefer a book to a lot of photocopies. The Kennedy and Fisher book does have introductory essays to the canonical pieces that look useful. If you want to join the Reading Group, please let me know your preference.


Faculty Adviser


We need at least one faculty adviser to be created as a student organization at the law school. I’ve compiled a list of possibilities (included in the survey).


I’ll approach whoever proves most popular in this poll and work my way down until someone agrees to do it. If we want to add additional faculty advisers, we may do so in the future.


Administrative Miscellany


Membership List: I will be using the list from the first meeting combined with the list from the activities fair and people who have told me they are interested orally or by e-mail. If you do not want to be on the list, please let me know.


Constitution: I will prepare a constitution as soon as I am able to get a model from the DOS (hopefully by the end of this week).


Website: I will try to set up a site on Sidebar where announcements (and possibly readings or at least links to readings) can be posted.


Email List: I will be sending emails from for the time being. In the future, the Communications Director (if we get one) and I may set up a listserv through the law school.


All the Best,


Jonathan Gingerich


Tags: Administration

HLTF Organizational Meeting

September 14th, 2008 · Comments Off on HLTF Organizational Meeting

An organizational meeting for the Harvard Legal Theory Forum will take place on Thursday, September 18, 6:00 PM, location Harvard Law School, Griswold Hall Room 110. The agenda for the meeting follows. If there is anything you would like me to add to the agenda, please contact me.


I. Welcome and Introduction

a. The rationale for a Harvard Legal Theory Forum

b. The goals of a Harvard Legal Theory Forum

II. Organization of the Society

a. Frequency of Meetings

i. Meetings to discuss classic works of theory and philosophy

ii. Meetings to discuss works in progress by students or professors

b. Selection of Topics for meetings

c. Plans for conducting meetings

d. Meeting times

e. Meeting locations

III. Administrative Issues

a. Identification of a faculty advisory

b. Preparation of a Constitution

c. Creation of a list of members

d. Selection of Officers

e. Website

f. Funding

A flyer announcing the meeting is available here.

I know that the timing of this meeting conflicts with a meeting of grad students in the Philosophy Department. The meeting is primarily to figure out the logistical issues of setting up a new organization. After the meeting, we will contact everyone who has expressed interest to set up convenient times for our regular meetings. If you are unable to attend the meeting on the 18th but have ideas about the administrative aspects of HLTF, please contact me.


Tags: Administration

Idea for a Harvard Legal Theory Forum

September 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Idea for a Harvard Legal Theory Forum

September 9, 2008


Dear Law Students, Graduate Students, Faculty, and Others Interested in Legal Theory,


I am thinking about initiating a Harvard Legal Theory Forum to provide a venue for students at Harvard Law School, and also graduate students at other schools in Harvard and other area universities, to discuss legal theory and bounce their ideas off of each other. Harvard Law School has, to some extent, a reputation as an anti-intellectual place, and I think that this reputation is not entirely undeserved. Particularly, many journals and student organizations focus narrowly on particular legal interests to the extent that they are somewhat hostile to theoretical treatment of law that cuts across legal fields. (There are certainly exceptions to this, but I have not found any organization that provides a good home for legal theory that cuts across a wide variety of legal topics and does not have any particular political affiliation.) This Forum would attempt to provide a home for legal theory that does not fit neatly within other legal fields, and it would be open to anyone interested in discussing or learning about legal theory.


The subject matter that such a group addresses might vary significantly depending on who is interested in this project. “Legal theory” is not a particularly narrow term. I thought first about reviving the “Law and Philosophy Society,” (which, as far as I can tell, has ceased to function) but the terminology of law and philosophy is often used in Anglo-American academia to connote a very methodologically narrow field. I have a sense that there are many people at Harvard who are not particularly interested in philosophy as it is defined by most American philosophy departments but who are interested in meta-accounts of law that might draw from Continental philosophy, feminist or queer theory, literary theory and criticism, history, political science, economics, and a number of other fields. All of these approaches might fairly be characterized as “legal theory,” and I would hope to incorporate as many of these approaches as possible into this Forum. 


I think that there are a number of reasons that it is important to encourage the study of legal theory. Communities around the world are changing and developing their legal systems to address the realities of globalization. They are also recognizing, to a greater extent than they have in the past, the difficulties and opportunities of regulating boundedly-rational actors. And they are confronting the challenges of adapting to effectively attend to the emergence and expansion of new communications technologies. As legal systems grow, it is important for legal theory to do so as well both so that it can provide coherent descriptive accounts of how laws work and so that it can effectively advance criticisms or normative stories about legal systems. The emergence and growth of a number of “law and” approaches to legal theory also challenges legal theorists to evaluate whether these modes of academic production provide useful ways of thinking about law. Young scholars should work to develop legal theory that builds on the strength of past theoretical endeavors but that also incorporates a fresh understanding of the world and law’s place in it. While working closely with established scholars is vital to building on prior theoretical accomplishments, developing a fresh understanding of the world is, to a large extent, a task for young scholars, and by working with one another to rethink legal theory young scholars can develop such understandings. This Forum would attempt to provide a resource for young scholars to collaborate and also a platform for young scholars to connect with more established scholars.


The particulars of how such a Forum would best be structured depend on the interests of the participants. Such a Forum could hold regular, informal meetings to discuss legal theory. Somewhat more formally, it could hold discussions of classic or recent works on legal theory or of Forum members’ writings on legal theory. It could also invite professors to participate in discussions of Forum members’ work or of published works on legal theory. I could also envision that the Forum might forum members’ writings as occasional papers, because the narrow focuses of many of the law journals at Harvard makes it rather difficult to find a suitable outlet to publish such writing.


Please contact me if you think that you might be interested in joining me to undertake such an initiative. Please feel free to pass along this information to anyone you know who might be interested.




Jonathan Gingerich

Tags: Administration