Collective Dissent as Legal Consciousness in Contemporary British Theatre

Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
DOI10.1177/0964663921999105
Article
Collective Dissent as
Legal Consciousness in
Contemporary British
Theatre
Debbie De Girolamo
Queen Mary University of London, UK
Abstract
This article explores legal consciousness in contemporary British theatre. It is concerned
with the messages conveyed about law in society as experienced through participant-
observation and textual analysis. The interpretation of meaning will take place within the
legal consciousness framework of collective dissent developed by Halliday and Morgan.
Using this framework, this article will show that dissent is a reoccurring theme in these
performances, with the legitimacy of state law under challenge. Alternative visions of law
are pluralistic in nature. By applying a collective dissent narrative to this study, the article
tests and further develops collective dissent as an analytical tool for examining legal
consciousness for cultural legal studies. Through this framework, it also advances the
study of theatrical performance for cultural legal studies in terms of what dramaturgic
images, observational and textual, say about the relationship between law and society;
specifically, to determine what theatrical performance of British contemporary theatre
says about the law in this snapshot of time and place.
Keywords
Collective dissent, cultural legal studies, legal consciousness, theatre
Corresponding author:
Debbie De Girolamo, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, 67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London
WC2A 3JB, UK.
Email: d.degirolamo@qmul.ac.uk
Social & Legal Studies
ªThe Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/0964663921999105
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2022, Vol. 31(1) 99–118
The study of popular culture in law has proliferated in the last 20 years, with a primary
focus on film and television, and little on theatre. While there is overwhelming literature
in theatre studies as it relates to law, this tends to be a textual or cinematic exploration, an
exploration of law as theatre, or explorations about certain subjects of law such as
ownership of copyright (e.g. McDonagh, 2014; Shetsvova, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c). Less
common is the socio-legal investigation of theatre performance and what it offers its
audience about society’s relationship to law, order and justice. This article seeks to fill
that gap by exploring the meanings given to the story of the interrelationship between
theatre and social constructions of law. In particular, it is concerned with the messages
conveyed by contemporary British theatre about law in society as experienced through
participant-observation and textual analysis. The interpretati on of meaning will take
place within the legal consciousness framework of collective dissent developed by
Halliday and Morgan (2013).
Collective dissent provides an appropriate schema from which to examine legal con-
sciousnessin theatrical performance.These plays form a collective.Patterns emerge froma
series of plays performed within a specific period of time suggesting collective agency for
the purposeof altering the current structuresof the law. They offer an opportunityto explore
the use of collective dissent as an analytical tool for examining legal consciousness in the
field of culturallegal studies andto further develop collectivedissent discoursewithin legal
consciousnessscholarship. In additionto this contribution,this article also seeksto advance
the study of theatrical performance for cultural legal studies in terms of what dramaturgic
images, observational and textual, say about the relationship between law and society;
specifically,to determine what theatricalperformance of British contemporary theatre says
about the law during theinstance of time and place bounded by this study.
This article will first situate the relevance of theatre to the study of law within legal
consciousness scholarship, and in particular, to the relatively new concept of collective
dissent developed by Halliday and Morgan. It will then introduce the methodology used
for the collection of data, describing the participant observational nature of the study as
augmented by textual analysis. Third, it will analyse theatrical data in relation to the
three elements of collective dissent: the illegitimacy of state law; alternative vision to the
current state of the law; and strategic use of the law. In its conclusion, this article will
summarise the findings of this analys is of the data by offering (i) a critique of the
collective dissent narrative developed by Halliday and Morgan, suggesting structural
changes to its framework, and (ii) a coda regarding the legal consciousness emanating
from these contemporary British plays.
Collective Dissent as Legal Consciousness
Ewick and Silbey’s seminal work on legal consciousness is well known within socio-
legal literature and requires no introduction. However, given this article’s argument that
the legal consciousness evinced by this study sits outside the Ewick and Silbey schemas,
it is necessary to recall those schemas. Their three distinct forms of legal consciousness
reflect the way in which individuals experience, deal with or interact with the law in
everyday life, all within a hegemonic conception of law whe re law dominates their
actions and experiences (Ewick and Silbey, 1998: 247; Hertogh, 2004: 476).
Social & Legal Studies 31(1)
100

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