7 May 2013

Article: Bernard J. Hibbitts, "Coming to Our Senses: Communication and Legal Expression in Performance Cultures"

Bernard J. Hibbitts was arguably well ahead of the legal scholaship curve when he published "Coming to Our Senses: Communication and Legal Expression in Performance Cultures" in the Emory Law Journal (41 (1992): 873-960), and he settled into this theme for the next few years until the currency of cyberspace pulled him into more intense study of the implications of technology upon the law. "Coming to Our Senses", the first of a series of publications devoted to the human senses and the law threw an ambitiously wide net into legal, anthropological and historical fields in order to contrast an American-style written legal culture with semi- or largely non-literate "performance cultures".
Perhaps a little outmoded today and a little unwieldy in the separation between performance and non-performance cultures, Hibbitts' article is nonetheless a fascinating tour of the unappreciated interventions of the five human senses upon legal discourse and tradition, as well as their cultural significance outside of contemporary Western legal modes. Framed as a survey loosely following anthropological research methods, Hibbitts looks to Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong for theoretical purchase alongside a horde of historical scholars.
"In their highest forms of cultural and intellectual exression, speech routinely gives voice to gesture and gesture gives shape to speech: music gives sound to sculpture, while sculptue gives sustance to music. Law is simultaneously heard, seen, and sometimes even felt and savored. Ultimately, the meaning of significant cultural and legal messages resides less in the individual components of communication (although these must be recognized) than in their synthesis, performance."
Hibbitt's article is available online at a dedicated site via the University of Pittsburgh, or as a pdf article as published in the Emory Law Journal from the Social Science Research Network. The BiM blog is indebted to the Sensory Studies website for providing the link to this text.

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