Legal Aesthetics as Visual Method

Thom Giddens (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The law appears visually: in the layouts of judicial texts, the formatting of statutes, the gowns and costumes of judges and court staff, the uniforms of police officers, the architecture and layouts of courtrooms, the theatricality and ritual of the trial, the embodied presence of the lawyer. Legal aesthetics interrogates this visual dimension of law, beyond the supposedly abstract or neutral content of legal texts, seeking to understand the way images are related to law’s substance and operation, its form and content. As a visual method, it asks what form law takes, what forms it used to take, and how these change our understanding of what the law is, how it operates, and how it might be changed for the better. Indeed, thinking about aesthetics – about the appearance of things – quickly takes us to difficult questions over what form law should take, querying the assumed primacy of text in articulating law and the rhetoric that helps sustain law as a seemingly objective ‘truth’ that can bring ‘justice’. To think about appearances ultimately leads us to question what legal knowledge itself looks like – as text, as reason and logic, as the rhetoric of argument – and to ponder alternative forms. By opening up legal analysis to emanations of visual culture beyond that of law – film, painting, television, comics, sculpture, architecture – we can step outside the assumed form of law and reflect on its value, history, and possibilities. This chapter sets out the core premise of this way of approaching law, before undertaking an example analysis of Tom Kaczynski’s one-page comic ‘White Noise’ in order to demonstrate the rich potential of opening up legal discourse to a wider range of sources and epistemic forms.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods
EditorsNaomi Creutzfeldt, Marc Mason, Kirsten McConnachie
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780429952814
ISBN (Print)9781138592902
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


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