In the law school classroom, the Socratic method of legal analysis removes a dispute at issue in a given case from its sociocultural context and takes the cultural backgrounds of the parties into account only when they serve the legal argument. The language of the law commands law students to siphon off the emotional and cultural content because of the enduring belief that the law is neutral and impartial. Accordingly, cultural conflicts are deemed irrelevant to legal analysis because laws are unbiased and culture-blind. This detached outlook has been termed perpectivelessness to denote a neutral, odorless, colorless non-perspective.
This essay describes how coverage of cultural defenses in a Criminal Law course can serve to create space within classroom discussion for considering perspectives other than those inherent in traditional legal analysis. This discussion not only affirms the relevance of other world views, but also calls into question the illusion of objectivity that cloaks our laws. By addressing this matter, students, hopefully, will learn to recognize the cultural assumptions imbedded in the cases they are reading and gain a deeper understanding of the law. The teaching plan for this lesson contains three distinct issues: (1) the relevance of culture to the criminal law, (2) the propriety of cultural defenses in the criminal law, and (3) the culture of the law school classroom. With issue one, students discuss several cases or fact patterns and consider how a cultural defense might be used in each situation. In issue two, arguments are made for or against the use of cultural defenses in our criminal legal system. Finally, issues one and two are placed in the context of issue three, in which students mull over the process of legal education and the distinct culture of the law school classroom.
Susan S. Kuo, Culture Clash: Teaching Cultural Defenses in the Criminal Law Classroom, 48 St. Louis U. L.J. (2004).