Book of essays reflects on sociopolitical movements


A new collection of essays edited by two Columbia professors examines the relationship between the United States’ legal system and cultural events such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Cultural Studies and the ‘Juridical Turn’: Culture of Law, Legitimacy in the Era of Neoliberal Capitalism” was published April 6. Edited by associate professor Jaafar Aksikas and assistant professor Sean Andrews of the cultural studies program, the collection is an updated follow-up to their 2014 book of essays called  “Cultural Studies and/of the Law,” Aksikas said.

Aksikas told The Chronicle that the collection by a diverse group of scholars examines the idea of the “juridical turn”—the increased presence of the law in events such as police brutality, mass incarceration and social protests.

“Our notion of ‘juridical turn’ ties in well with all kinds of developments, including the increasing role that prisons play, the criminal justice system [and] the civilian justice system,” Aksikas added.

He said the “juridical turn” demonstrates the increased presence of law officials in everyday events and the illusion that the law instead of other social institutions can resolve social issues.

“We have been seeing the intensification of the role of culture and social movement in the culture,” Aksikas said. “That is where the Black Lives Matter movement kind of fits in.”

Aksikas said the heightened presence of the law’s place in society is reflected in the increased visibility of police misconduct and violence toward civilians, highlighting the relationship between race and the current political state of the country, which Black Lives Matter fights against.

He added that the movement’s lack of concrete demands, which some people have criticized, is actually creating progress.

“It’s important to make [the protest] into a revolutionary movement that is about more than racism and more than police violence and brutality,” he said. 

Aksikas said the collection’s contributors, who are fellow cultural studies scholars and professors from around the country, discuss injustices toward civilians and consequential uprisings like Black Lives Matter and other social protests that are responding to the strict legal system. 

Andrews said the collection examines the movement’s formation in the context of a deeper, systemic inequality rather than the individual actions of police officers and government officials.

“People being racist or sexist is deeply embedded in the structure of U.S. law and culture,” Andrews said. “There are historical reasons but also reasons that have to do with the reproduction of the U.S. political economy today that help us to understand why the law works the way it works.”

He said to better understand the Black Lives Matter protests and the juridical influence on U.S. culture, it is important to question the overall ingrained cultural system rather than singular events.

“Instead of asking, ‘is there something about racist cops,’ we might be asking, ‘what is it about our society that we ask cops to do such racist things?’” Andrews said.

Aksikas said the topic is timely and relatable given Black Lives Matter’s strong presence in the city and with Columbia community.

Seminary Co-op Bookstores will host a book launch and discussion with both authors and guest speakers from the University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago April 29.

Alex Houston, marketing manager for Seminary Co-op Bookstores, said in an April 19 emailed statement that the event reflects the bookstore’s mission to host a  diverse collection of books and authors for the community. She said the Co-op carries a higher-than-average number of academic and scholarly titles, as well as hosting more scholarly events.

“It’s also important to us to foster public conversations on relevant contemporary issues, of which the Black Lives Matter movement is, of course, one,” Houston said.

Aksikas and Andrews will host a book launch and discussion called “Does the Black Lives Matter ‘Movement’ Matter?” at Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., on April 29 to engage the community in talking about the political movement and how law shapes culture and the juridical turn.