What makes an occurrence an interesting case, a scandalous case, an exemplary event? A groundbreaking special double issue of Critical Inquiry, named academes most prestigious theory journal by the New York Times, looks at the case the standard unit in law, medicine, psychoanalysis, the humanities, the sciences, and popular culture. What makes a case ordinary, easily dealt with, or forgettable? What makes some cases, and not others, challenges to the way ordinary life or institutional systems usually proceed?
"Scandalous cases often organize debate in popular culture," says guest editor Lauren Berlant (University of Chicago). But how do we learn to use our judgment to discern what makes a case challenging to our usual sense of how things work? For example, is the recent emergence of the case of torture in U.S. political life an exception that ought to transform politics, ethics, and law? Or is there a story that makes it ordinary? Is the obesity epidemic a case of medical and insurance systems in disarray? A case of mass irresponsibility? Or a disease of workers who have no time to rest, except when they're eating? How have novels, poems, paintings, and films changed the ways we recognize a case as historically significant? Why do we not care when people sell hair or blood, but (often) reject a market in other body parts?
Not all cases are scandalous. The case is used in many different ways: to frame an instance (a crime, perhaps), to make an argument (documentary film), and to organize singularities into exemplary, intelligible patterns, as Berlant writes in her introduction. Case studies identify the principles from which we cull conclusions about norms and their violation. Berlant writes: When an event occurs out of which a case is constructed, it represents a situation in which people are compelled to take its history, seek out precedent, write down its narratives, adjudicate claims about it, make a judgment, and file it somewhere.
|Contact: Suzanne Wu|
University of Chicago Press Journals