Narrative, Inference, and Law in Cultural Context
This essay begins with a heartfelt Preface in honor of Jerome Bruner and a brief description of our work and friendship. I then proceed to discuss the relationship between narrative, inference, and law, a theme that Jerry and I discussed on many occasions. The legitimacy of a legal system depends on in large part on its power to find or construct a set of facts relevant to the rule at hand that resonates with the society that it serves. After discussing the nature of narrative I explore the way in which cultural factors influence inference and thus the world of law. I discuss two legal controversies in the U.S. that deal with facts in the legal sense. One concerns the definition of “father” in relation to child custody. The second describes how a criminal prosecution is affected by narratives about the behavior of young African-American men, and then later by a narrative about police behavior. These cases show that narrative can construct or distort reality; its power derived from its cultural sensitivity.
KeywordsBruner Inference Narrative Law Expectations
Russell D. Niles Professor of Law, New York University School of Law. It is with deep gratitude to Jerome Bruner that I dedicate this brief essay to him. No one familiar with his work will miss the “Brunerian” influences on my essay; in particular the explication of narrative and the whimsical-but-serious examples. As the saying goes: “If you are going to learn, learn from the best.” I therefore make no apology for having internalized much of Jerry’s wisdom after many years of teaching together. I do insist that any errors in the work are mine alone. I acknowledge with thanks the support of the Filomen D’Agostino and Max E. Greenberg Fund of the NYU School of Law.
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