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Latour and the Passage of Law$
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Kyle McGee

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697908

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697908.001.0001

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In the Name of the Law: Ventriloquism and Juridical Matters

In the Name of the Law: Ventriloquism and Juridical Matters

(p.235) 9 In the Name of the Law: Ventriloquism and Juridical Matters
Latour and the Passage of Law

François Cooren

Edinburgh University Press

Cooren here applies his model of ‘ventriloquism’ to law and to the performances of legal speech, which allows him to detect the slight shifts in agency so characteristic of legal argumentation, and which helps reveal the complexity and polyphony of the apparently homophonic judicial utterance. From the Latourian notion of distributed action and the structure of faire faire – a theorem that consistently earns a central place in Latour’s oeuvre, Cooren launches his study by problematising anew canonical givens such as the binaries of passivity/activity and autonomy/heteronomy. We must not forget that ventriloquism involves not only the ventriloquist’s manipulation of the puppet but also the puppet’s manipulation of the ventriloquist, insofar as the latter says things that she, quite frankly, would never say were the puppet not attached to her hand. It is this strange loop of action and passion, autonomy and heteronomy, animation and inanimation, that characterises not only the puppeteer’s performance but also the lawyer’s and the judge’s performances, and, indeed, the structure of communication in general. What, then, does it mean to speak in the name of the law? Without succumbing to the snares of spontaneous hypostatisation, Cooren argues, in contrast to numerous theorists, that the law indeed possesses a sort of agency of its own. A host of legal and non-legal beings (prior judgments, witness testimony, documents of all kinds, emotions like frustration and anger, balances of power, statutes, healthcare reform policies, duplicity, etc.) are figured and mobilised to say certain things in the saying of the law: they are voiced by lawyers and judges, of course, but they also lend their own voices to the latter, shaping the means through which the law may pass.

Keywords:   Conversation analysis, Semiotics of law, Legal ethnography, Modes of existence, Actor-network theory, Bruno Latour, Agency, Dialogue, speech

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