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

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011: Top 25 Books

Paperback | 2013 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691157870
368 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Abused dogs, prisoners tortured in Guantánamo and supermax facilities, or slaves killed by the state--all are deprived of personhood through legal acts. Such deprivations have recurred throughout history, and the law sustains these terrors and banishments even as it upholds the civil order. Examining such troubling cases, The Law Is a White Dog tackles key societal questions: How does the law construct our identities? How do its rules and sanctions make or unmake persons? And how do the supposedly rational claims of the law define marginal entities, both natural and supernatural, including ghosts, dogs, slaves, terrorist suspects, and felons? Reading the language, allusions, and symbols of legal discourse, and bridging distinctions between the human and nonhuman, Colin Dayan looks at how the law disfigures individuals and animals, and how slavery, punishment, and torture create unforeseen effects in our daily lives.

Moving seamlessly across genres and disciplines, Dayan considers legal practices and spiritual beliefs from medieval England, the North American colonies, and the Caribbean that have survived in our legal discourse, and she explores the civil deaths of felons and slaves through lawful repression. Tracing the legacy of slavery in the United States in the structures of the contemporary American prison system and in the administrative detention of ghostly supermax facilities, she also demonstrates how contemporary jurisprudence regarding cruel and unusual punishment prepared the way for abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.

Using conventional historical and legal sources to answer unconventional questions, The Law Is a White Dog illuminates stark truths about civil society's ability to marginalize, exclude, and dehumanize.


"The Law is a White Dog is both philosophically breathtaking and politically relevant. Dayan's disrobing of personhood is not simply an exposure of injustice, but an argument. She beckons us to a conception of the law that considers emotion and ethics as relevant as reason."--Imani Perry, American Literary History

"[A] breath-taking tour through legal and cultural contexts richly and passionately portrayed. . . . Dayan aspires to do more than debunk the 'rationality' of law; she cries out against the injustice and violence that law's word-twisting makes both possible and invisible. Her descriptions and account of civil death, force-feeding, mind-killing solitary confinement, and slavery and its inheritors, should be required reading."--Linda Ross Meyer, Law, Culture and Humanities

"Dayan succeeds mightily in her dismal project. The tale is told via death-row chain gangs, cell-extraction with dogs, rape by 'correctional officers', a rare first-hand report on the horrors of supermax prisons, and much else besides: the entombment of the living that made an end to the death penalty possible--but only because a fate worse than death had been found. . . . The book is defined by three extraordinary strengths. First, its moral force is as direct as that of Charles Dickens, émile Zola or Henry Mayhew. Its controlled anger reminded me of No Logo, Naomi Klein's great critique of international capitalism. Second, I have never read a better use made of case law: Dayan knows the importance of legal decisions but is not bound by them, and is always aware that their hinterland matters much more than their formal prose. . . . Third and best, the book takes the margins and makes them central. . .these features help to make it a triumph of style as well as of substance."--Conor Gearty, Times Higher Education

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Table of Contents:

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

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