About the Talk

Lawmakers, activists, and academics, often, presume that enacting a law sends a (powerful) message about what is socially desirable and acceptable. At worst, it is presumed that it will stay as ink on paper and not create any change. Therefore, it is considered as a cost-less endeavor with potential for creating great change at low costs. This has led for increase in demand for legislation, even ones that may be hard to enforce and even in countries which have limited state capacity, for their ‘symbolic value’. In this workshop, we will consider this claim by understanding the social and institutional conditions under which laws can have such a symbolic power to send the right message and, more importantly, when it can send the wrong one. No individuals interact with any law in isolation. Individuals’ decision to comply with a law, their understanding of what it means and how others will respond to it are all shaped by past experiences (theirs and of those within their reference network) with the law. In fact, the strength of the claim that laws send a message, itself, relies on the fact that there is a social expectation that laws (in general) do, in fact, provide information about what is socially acceptable behavior. What happens when this social expectation is not in place? Utilizing examples of legislations prohibiting behaviors deeply rooted in social and cultural norms as well as in institutional contexts with generally low compliance and trust in state, this workshop discusses the limits and costs of legal expression. Using a dialogic approach, this workshop will explore what law can successfully communicate in different contexts.

About the Speaker

Shubhangi Roy is a legal academic at Universität Münster.