Publication Date01 May 1995
Sexy Dressing etc. Essays on the Power and Politics
Cultural Identity,
Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, xiv
258 pp, hb f19.95.
Duncan Kennedy’s book attempts to give a new direction to the Left’s radicalism
in the American law school. Aimed primarily at the academic who works in such
an institution, this book attempts to review current theorisations of workplace and
personal politics and to provide a new framework and critical direction for both the
individual teacher and for the academy as a whole.
The four essays in the book acknowledge the difficulties in creating or
maintaining group identities and affiliations within the cultural plurality of the
American law school. The contention is that, despite the fluidity and contingency
necessary amongst such a diverse group of individuals, each of whom is facing
their own personal contradictions because of the nature of their work, it is possible
for each person to bring constructive insights to any critique of regime theories and
through that to develop a notion of group collectivity.
The book leads the reader through a critique of the generalisations of systems
logics that have arisen from feminist, anti-racist and marxist academic scholarship
as they have developed in opposition to the enlightenment theories of modernism.
However, Kennedy does not leave the reader with a sense of negativity. Rather, he
proposes, through his essays, new ways in which the American academic, and in
particular those of the critical realist school, can listen to the needs and voices of
their fellows.
Kennedy provides prescriptive forms for the reintroduction of anti-hegemonic
practice and teaching within the academy in general, and for law schools in
particular. This he does by combining European neo-Marxist and post-modernist
theory with American legal realism. As such, he has formulated a way forward for
the Left without falling into the trap of being either righteous or naive, dogmatic or
reprimanding, but rather by being compassionate in his moralising on a local
institutional level.
Kennedy starts by introducing the notion of the culture of the intelligentsia. He
does this by distinguishing European and American notions of culture, of the
following of high and low cultures as we know them. He seeks out the historical
role of the cultural elite of American society: the intelligentsia. Belonging to a
society which extols low culture has left this elite without the direction that the Left
has in Europe, and hence no place in the leadership of the American masses.
Rather than suggesting that the intelligentsia could form a contingent and
coherent group, as has happened in Europe through the adoption of high culture
values, Kennedy suggests that the cultural diversity of this group in itself provides
a way forward. The intelligentsia could view itself as its own quasi-ethnic group
with its own cultural values and norms, which could be judged by the standards of
psychological humanism that saturate American culture.
As an example, he examines racism
or rather the apparent lack of it in the
American Law School
through a critique of Randall Kennedy’s claim that merit
can (and should) be afforded to the individual regardless of their cultural
background, and that to make ‘racial’ considerations when assessing scholarly
The Modern Law Review Limited
May). Published by Blackwell Publishers,
Cowley Road, Oxford
Main Street, Cambridge, MA

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