Reviews of Alan Hyde, Bodies of Law (Princeton University Press 1997)

CHOICE, February 1998

Hyde's ambitious book examines the way law treats bodies in contexts as diverse as workplace injuries, drug testing, criminal rights, and alleged invasions of privacy. It is a wonderful example of critical theory applied to law. Drawing on theorists like Freud, Foucault, Lacan, Kristeva, and Judith Butler, the author shows how, when treated sensitively and imaginatively, arcane legal doctrine comes alive under the sharp light of interdisciplinary inquiry. Yet theory leery readers need not be scared away by the complexities of the theories on which Hyde (Rutgers Univ. School of Law) draws: he is a wonderful translator. He uses critical theories to denaturalize and dereify the body. He claims, quite persuasively, that the legal treatment of the body is indeterminate in that images of body are used to justify both freedom and regulation, both sacred veneration and degrading invasions of privacy. He rejects the search for a perfect way of speaking about the body, choosing wisely to proliferate discursive representations of the body in the service of "human coexistence, understanding, and empowerment." In so doing, Hyde puts a masterful analysis in the service of a humane purpose. Graduate level and above. -- A.D. Sarat, Amherst College.


excerpted from a joint review with Pheng Cheah, David Fraser, and Judith Grbich, Thinking Through the Body of Law

Hyde's text is positioned, perhaps first and foremost, as a book about the dialogue between legal studies and critical theory. In contrast to the international scope of Thinking Through the Body of Law, Bodies of Law is primarily a study of the ways in which the human body has been made to figure in American legal discourse....[T]he book aspires, somewhat ambitiously, to present a jurisprudential statement of "the Critical Legal Studies networks"; that is, to emphasize and explore the ways in which multiple constructions of the body are available to legal and other speakers in a way which, as discussed above, is neither "natural" nor limited by biology. As with [the] collection, what we have here is an engagement with the body as a discursive creation, approached in a project of denaturalization and deconstruction. Echoing the arguments of Grosz (whose work tends to be addressed, somewhat surprisingly for this reader, almost in passing) Bodies of Law seeks to engage in a much rarer reconstructive politics of legal bodies, a hesitant step towards a "jurisprudence of human presence". What results is a book which one suspects may well be, for readers unfamiliar with the territory and coming from legal studies, more "user friendly" than Thinking Through the Body of Law. Hyde makes a point of noting, on a number of occasions, that he is writing from a position which is (at the very least) sympathetic to mainstream lawyers' difficulties with postmodernist texts, which he suggests are frequently marked by a wilful obscurity, pomposity, and insularity. This is a book which is certainly aware of its limitations; it does not seek to serve as a text on deconstruction or corporeality "as such". However the very diversity of the legal materials on which the author draws in seeking to fuse doctrine and theory is itself a strength of a text which will appeal to a diverse audience of legal scholars as well as those who are already interested and involved in critical theory.

The ultimate test of his book, Hyde suggests, is whether the readings it presents will strike the reader as interesting or illuminating. With regard to both Bodies of Law and Thinking Through the Body of Law this is a test which is passed unequivocally. Each book represents an original, important and timely attempt to relate emerging critical theory around corporeality and the sexed subject to legal discourse. At a time when "theory" would appear to be seen as a desirable (but by no means essential) additional "bolt-on" extra to policy orientated socio-legal research, these books stand as a testimony to the quality of critical scholarship which is taking place, not at the centre, but at the margins of law. Each text will be of interest to readers from cultural studies, gender studies, political theory, sociology, and anthropology, as well as the fields of queer studies, feminist theory, and critical race theory. It is to be hoped that each of these books secure the wide readership they unquestionably deserve within a legal discipline which persists, in so many ways, in collapsing all subject positions into one "humanity". The perspective offered looks toward a way "outside", or beyond, much more than the confines of the sex/gender distinction. They are, ultimately, about more than the body. They question epistemological frameworks which are increasingly obsolete and promise new understandings, new ways of "thinking through" the relationship between law, sex, and the body. --Richard Collier, Newcastle Law School, University of Newcastle.