Special Issue: The Legacy of Stuart Scheingold: Volume 59

Cover of Special Issue: The Legacy of Stuart Scheingold

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(16 chapters)
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This volume of Studies in Law, Politics, and Society explores the legacy of Stuart Scheingold. Stuart Scheingold passed away on June 24, 2010 after a long bout with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. At the time of his death, he was 78 years old. Stuart had a distinguished academic career, teaching political science at the University of California (Davis), the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and, from 1969 until his retirement in 2002, at the University of Washington. The essays contained in this volume are written by former students and colleagues. They engage with his work in various ways, some by directly commenting on it, some by taking up and extending themes that Scheingold developed, some by offering testimonies to its influence.

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Stuart Scheingold's The Politics of Rights provided a path-breaking theoretical analysis of what he called the “myth of rights.” Scheingold's key insight was that even though rights were a myth, rights ideologies nevertheless left a significant imprint on American politics. The book charted a research agenda that has now been followed by a wide range of sociolegal scholars. Looking across that diverse body scholarship, I find convergence on two points. First, scholars claim that law and legal ideology contribute to processes of legitimation and to political acquiescence. Second, and seemingly in tension with the first, most people do not appear to believe in idealized legal myths and express only qualified commitments to legal ideals. Most scholars have responded to this tension by downplaying evidence that people have doubts about legal ideals, often treating expressions of doubts as evidence of confusion. As a result, scholars still conclude that residual commitments to legal myths help to explain legitimation and acquiescence. Such moves produce accounts of legal myths that are insufficiently attentive to politics and power. Scholars would do better to return to Scheingold's more ambivalent perspective on the politics of rights in order to understand the political consequences of commitments to rights’ ideologies.

Stuart Scheingold's path-breaking The Politics of Rights ignited scholarly interest in the political mobilization of rights. The book was a challenge to the reigning popular and scholarly common sense regarding the supposedly self-executing nature of rights (what Scheingold called the “myth of rights”). Rights, Scheingold argued, could be resources for the pursuit of social change; but their realization in court doctrine and legislative output was not itself tantamount to meaningful social change. Thus embedded in The Politics of Rights is skepticism (or at least ambivalence) about the utility of rights politics for social movements. Scheingold was not ambivalent about the moral or normative value of rights themselves, although he did argue that the realization of rights was not by itself enough to overcome the manifold inequalities that structure modern life. The Politics of Rights, accordingly, is clear-eyed, but not cynical about rights advocacy. It is thus surprising, and keenly revealing, that Scheingold's final work – The Political Novel, which is ostensibly not about rights at all – points to mass cynicism, alienation, and the collapse of faith in governing institutions and logics as the animating elements of modern liberal democracies, including especially the United States. That rights are a vital part of the civic mythology whose collapse defines modern times suggests that the civil rights context of aspiration and struggle in which Scheingold, and nearly all of his followers (this author included), have conceived rights may be unnecessarily narrow. Rights may also be embedded, that is, in the modern condition of alienation, despair, and felt powerlessness. Inspired by Scheingold's investigation of how literature points to this modern condition of political estrangement, I offer an alternative backdrop for The Politics of Rights that is rooted in the bleak renderings of the American character found in much 1970's American popular and intellectual culture. Such a contextualization, I will argue, suggests that we envision The Political Novel as a companion piece to The Politics of Rights; together they illuminate both the mobilizing and demobilizing potential of the myth of rights.

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This paper examines several common features that animate Stuart Scheingold's The Politics of Rights and The Political Novel. In exploring the affinities between these contrasting works, the paper takes up Scheingold's engagement with the cultural imagination – the legal imagination in The Politics of Rights and the literary imagination in The Political Novel – and shows how this engagement informs Scheingold's analysis of illusion, dualism, contingency, and agency.

This chapter brings together the insights of Stuart Scheingold's work on political criminology and urban social control with subsequent work on the politics of affect or “public feelings.” I argue that Scheingold prefigured the turn to affect in his study of crime politics and that his attention to the way affect-driven politicization plays out differently at different political levels (local, national) usefully complicates the current focus on national politics.

This chapter evaluates the allure and the danger of attributing race-laden crime politics to displaced anxiety. Stuart Scheingold's “myth of crime and punishment” was a path-setting theory of redirected fear, arguing that socioeconomic “fear of falling” is displaced onto street crime, where the simple morality tale of lawbreaker-versus-state offers the illusion of control. The danger of this theory, I argue, is that it purports to analyze post-1960s’ structural inequality, but it replicates the post-civil rights logic and language of racism as nonstructural – an irrationality, a misplaced emotion, a mere epiphenomenon of class. As a theory that hinges on the malfunction of redirecting structural anxieties onto symbols and scapegoats, the vocabulary of displaced anxieties links punitive (white) subjects to punished (black and Latino) objects through a diagnosis that is, by definition, beyond rationality. The vocabulary of displaced anxiety categorizes the racial politics of law and order as an emotional misfire, thereby occluding the ways in which racial interests are at stake in crime policy and carceral state development.

Like popularized stories amplifying the dangers associated with stranger-predator street crime, immigrant-as-criminal narratives are as widespread as they are inconsistent with the best available data. A growing body of research suggests that immigration not only does not increase crime, it may reduce it. Building on what Scheingold referred to as political criminology, our analysis suggests that the continued salience of immigrant-as-criminal narratives tells us more about politics and power, the symbolic life of the law, and the multifaceted importance of proximity to understanding debates about crime and punishment, than it tells us about how to construct more effective immigration or crime control policies.

Scheingold's The Politics of Rights and The Political Novel while having different objects of study at the center of their analyses, both concern themselves with the difficulties in producing meaningful social change on a late modern political terrain. His critiques of rights-claiming are echoed in debates over the practical and philosophical difficulties incorporating animals into contemporary legal regimes. This chapter considers insights from Scheingold's two texts arguing that his insights into the legal imaginary in the latter text anticipates the critique of animal rights while his emphasis on the fictional imaginary in the former text can also be found in contemporary texts that suggest animals can help us rethink political agency.

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This essay argues that Stuart Scheingold's finest book is The Rule of Law in European Integration, a version of his doctoral dissertation published in 1965 by Yale University Press. It examines the argument of this book – that the European Court of Justice was largely responsible for creating the “new Europe,” and its constitution – and assesses the evidence that Scheingold adduced to support this claim. The conclusion is that Scheingold produced a unique and convincing and important book. The essay then shows that this book disappeared without a trace. It should have won awards and been celebrated for the breakthrough analysis it was. Instead it disappeared, and a discouraged Scheingold abandoned this project and turned to other scholarly interests. The essay advances three arguments as to why the book had no impact. First, it was so far ahead of its time that it failed even to have an audience, and what few readers it had failed to appreciate its significance. Second, it had the misfortune of being written in the jargon-heavy language of structural functionalism just as this theory disappeared from fashion virtually overnight. Third, the book focuses on a form of law that is not in fashion with sociolegal scholars, who are preoccupied with commands and rights, and not with courts’ abilities to create and empower new institutions. A final optimistic note is sounded in the face of this depressing account. When Scheingold abandoned his first field and turned to other scholarly interests, here too he made highly original and convincing arguments. But here, in contrast to his earlier experience with regional integration, this later work was widely recognized and praised, and the best of it is quite properly described as “classic.”

This chapter critically assesses the neoconservative communitarian critique of rights talk and practices in the contemporary United States. We argue that the critics are unconvincing about: (a) the institutional history of civil rights development; (b) the actual character of rights talk and practices in ordinary life; and (c) the allegation that rights talk undermines community, which remains a poorly specified and implicitly inegalitarian standard. Our argument is developed on the basis of sociolegal theory and empirical study over the last several decades.

Cover of Special Issue: The Legacy of Stuart Scheingold
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Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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