A new focus has been added to the research programme of the Center for the History of Emotions (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin): Law and Emotions.
Since the onset of the modern period, law has become increasingly important: It is not only a powerful instrument to shape and regulate social practices, but also a particular way of perceiving societies, and, as such, deeply influenced by social, political, economic and cultural concerns. Historians of legal thought and practice have long since considered the pivotal role that law plays in both respects; legal history written as social history has yielded fascinating insights into the history of law as well into the history of modern societies.
For historians of the emotions, law – meaning legal thought, codifications and practice – offers a highly promising perspective on how emotions have historically been conceptualized and how those concepts have influenced social practices. Penal law is particularly rich and meaningful for this purpose. Two issues are prominent: so-called crimes of passion and crimes of honour (including insults and offenses). Both have been perceived and treated as criminal acts spurred by emotions (affects, passions, feelings, agitation/excitement). Generations of legal scholars, lawyers, judges and juries have produced various reflections on how those emotions were triggered, their impact on the person affected, to what extent they reduced his/her free will, sanity and responsibility, if the person could be expected to fight those emotions and return to a ‘rational’ state of mind, what kind of emotions were involved and how they should be morally judged, who was more susceptible or resistant to emotional overwhelm, etc. Those reflections were guided by legal traditions and doctrines, but they were also informed by psychological and medical expertise, and they usually aimed to reflect wider contemporary perceptions and attitudes. At the same time, they were by no means purely theoretical. Instead, they had strong repercussions on how justice was administered, how defendants framed their defense, and how the public commented on the case.
The new research project analyses how emotions were perceived and handled by those in charge of drafting legal codes and administering justice, as judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, in accordance with, or in opposition to, general social attitudes and popular opinion. Law continuously struggled to make sense of emotions; legal professionals were under high pressure to relate emotions to paramount categories of free will, individual responsibility and culpability. Legal debates thus offer fascinating insights into contemporary discourses on reason and affect, good and bad morals, ‘cool’ and ‘hot blood’, just-unjust/acceptable-despicable emotions. They also take a share in social and gender stereotyping, but often do so in a less consistent way: By constructing the passionate man in contrast to the premeditating woman, they undermine traditional nineteenth-century ideas about gender or at least add new, influential facets to contemporary gender discourses.
Sources to be considered are legal drafts, commentaries and scholarly contributions (of which there are plenty), as well as trials. Trials concerning so-called crimes of passion as well as crimes of honour put emotions on centre stage and offer historians a rare opportunity to see emotions at work, in a multitude of ways: as excusatory devices, as tools of accusation and moral reproach, as courtroom emotions.
Focusing on crimes of passions/honour invites diachronic and comparative perspectives on law-making and jurisprudence. The time period under consideration spans from the eighteenth to the early twenty-first century. Comparisons can be intra-European as well as extra-European.
Applicants should have a strong interest and expertise in legal and cultural history, and should be familiar with archival research. They can work either on a pre- or on a post-doctoral fellowship (or a TVöD position), initially for two years, which might be extended for another two years upon mutual agreement. Regular presence at the Institute and participation in its seminars and conferences is mandatory.
Please send applications, including CVs and a short (1-3 pages) proposal listing topics, research questions and relevant sources, to:
MPI for Human Development
Center for the History of Emotions
Secretariat Professor Frevert
Alternatively per email:
Sekretariat Prof. Dr. Ute Frevert
Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
Max Planck Institute for Human Development
Phone: +49-30-82406 261/262
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