Institutionalizing Exemplary Narratives: Stories as Models for and Movers of Law

Law & Literature

Sometimes recurring stories are hidden from view and remain beyond the reach of law until they are brought to light because of a change in social or legal context. And sometimes recurring stories are readily available to serve as analogies to a present controversy. My paper suggests both types of stories can be categorized as ‘‘exemplary’’ narratives—that is, narratives that are capable of moving the law or legal decisions. To show how and why certain narratives attain exemplary status, I trace a series of self-defense cases involving women as defendants and the development of a closing argument in a famous trial. I conclude with a meditation on what ‘‘exemplarity’’ in law means and consider whether this is an aspect of the use of  models in the social and life sciences.

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