| Thinking Law and Feminism through Psychoanalysis

Course Information

  • 2020-21
  • 5-Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.), LL.M.
  • III, V
  • Mar 2021
  • Elective Course

This is a foundational course exploring the intersection between law, feminism and psychoanalysis. At the end of last century, psychoanalytic legal philosopherPeter Goodrich suggested howthe radical potential of law can be unravelled through “other means” (Goodrich, 1998: 116). This course takes psychoanalysis as the “other means” of reading feminism and law. Psychoanalysis, this course postulates, pushes law to acknowledge its fragile configurations and to rethink its self-assured, autonomous, and rational identity. Like psychoanalysis, feminism has also critiqued the violent underside of law in exposing the male subjectivity hidden beneath the claims of dispassionate objectivity (Mackinnon, 1989: 124). It has reminded about the chaos that lies within the discipline of law and the passions that govern its structures and systems. Following the insights of psychoanalytic feminists like Drucilla Cornell, Juliet Mitchell, Jacqueline Rose etc., this course will read feminist praxis and its intersection with law through a psychoanalytic lens. It argues that both feminism and law require each other and together they need psychoanalysis to remain mindful of the traps and pious myths that they might fall in. To put it in a single sentence, it seeks to (re)imagine the futures of both feminism and the law with an engagement with psychoanalysis.

On the one hand, the course seeks to foreground and explore the fragility, uncertainty and subtle contradictions in law, and on the other it aspires to critically engage with the pressing issues and concerns within feminism and the law in the contemporary India. We will reflect upon the legal response to sexual violence, the “carceral” and “preventive” turn of feminism and criminal law respectively (Baxi, 2016; Carvalho, 2017) in order to interrogate the psychic sub-texts that script (sexual) violence. We will also explore the place of sexual desire when sexuality is dominantly understood in terms of hierarchy, power relations and is inextricably linked with violence. The other pressing issue haunting law – who is a rightful subject of law is another concern of the course. Through legal texts, we will engage with the motivations of law and citizen subject in the increasing ascendency

of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India. This psychoanalytic question is premised on an inquiry into the popular and populist demand(s) for strong nationalism, retribution and vigilante forms of justice. How should one understand this psychic desire to annihilate the other beyond the familiar account of ideology delineated in the Marxist spectrum of scholarship? This is where the question of individual and collective desire in its traumatic form requires critical attention. Broadly, this course introduces psychoanalysis as a way to scrutinise the historico-cultural unconscious in which our individual psyches are etched.