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Political Trials in Theory and History
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Book description

From the trial of Socrates to the post-9/11 military commissions, trials have always been useful instruments of politics. Yet there is still much that we do not understand about them. Why do governments use trials to pursue political objectives, and when? What differentiates political trials from ordinary ones? Contrary to conventional wisdom, not all political trials are show trials or contrive to set up scapegoats. This volume offers a novel account of political trials that is empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated, linking state-of-the-art research on telling cases to a broad argument about political trials as a socio-legal phenomenon. All the contributors analyse the logic of the political in the courtroom. From archival research to participant observation, and from linguistic anthropology to game theory, the volume offers a genuinely interdisciplinary set of approaches that substantially advance existing knowledge about what political trials are, how they work, and why they matter.


'This is a remarkable book. Meierhenrich and Pendas have assembled a wonderful and coherent collection. They offer a new understanding of political trials, one which illuminates both the juridical dimensions of political life and the way political meanings shape courts and trials. Broad in its historical and cultural sweep, impressive in its scholarship, uniformly persuasive, Political Trials in Theory and History will quickly become a must-read among students of law and politics.'

Austin Sarat - Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College, Massachusetts

'All trials are political. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. This collection is a marvelous exploration of that often forgotten fact, demonstrating to us the need to be able to appraise the uses of the criminal law and legal process for many kinds of political ends, some of which we have reason to agree with, while others can only appear as highly dubious. This is an intelligent and timely intervention in a field too often shrouded in technicalities.'

Martti Koskenniemi - University of Helsinki and Director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights

'Criminal trials are fascinating, as Hollywood learned long ago. Political trials are even better: the stakes are higher; the participants loom larger. These fourteen case studies of major trials, organized in accordance with a framework that the editors provide, are genuinely illuminating and wonderfully engaging.'

Michael Walzer - Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University, New Jersey

'Political trials in theory and history shows that, in too many trials, it is very difficult to separate the administration of justice from explicit or, more often, implicit political goals. The book makes two key contributions to the understanding of political trials. The first comes from a rather dense, though well-articulated, introductory chapter from the editors. The second is a list of inspiring case-studies devoted to 14 trials held across 25 centuries, from Socrates to Guantánamo Bay.'

Daniele Archibugi Source: International Affairs

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