Colin Dayan Receives Vanderbilt University Chancellor’s Award

Colin Dayan recently received a Vanderbilt University Chancellor’s Award for her research and book The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton University Press, 2011), which was selected by Choice as one of top 25 books for 2011. Speaking about the book and the author, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said:

Examining traumatic stories of tortured prisoners in Guantanamo, death row chain gangs, and cell-extraction with dogs, Colin scrutinizes the fundamental societal questions: How does the law affect our identities? [. . .]

Hailed as a truly stunning achievement, at once searing and lyrical, The Law Is a White Dog has already attracted wide attention in the international community of scholars and intellectuals in all fields. But those who focus on legal theory, and the politics and anthropology of what she shrewdly identifies as “legal rituals,” derive a profound benefit from the book’s illumination of civil society’s ability to marginalize, shun, and dehumanize.

[. . .] Although this is a book about common law and juridical law, and the ways in which one shades into the other in British and American jurisprudence, she steadily reminds us of the ritualistic dimensions and cultural expressions embedded in the application of all legal decision making.  For her superb use of case law, meticulous research, and masterful study of how rules and sanctions make or unmake persons, I am pleased to present this award and extend my congratulations to Colin Dayan.

Description (excerpt): [. . .] Moving seamlessly across genres and disciplines, Dayan considers legal practices and spiritual beliefs from medieval England, the North American colonies, and the Caribbean that have survived in our legal discourse, and she explores the civil deaths of felons and slaves through lawful repression. Tracing the legacy of slavery in the United States in the structures of the contemporary American prison system and in the administrative detention of ghostly supermax facilities, she also demonstrates how contemporary jurisprudence regarding cruel and unusual punishment prepared the way for abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.

Colin Dayan is the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. Her books include A Rainbow for the Christian West: Introducing René Depestre’s Poetry (1977); Fables of Mind: An Inquiry into Poe’s Fiction (1987); Haiti, History, and the Gods (1995, 1998) and The Story of Cruel and Unusual (2007).

For more information, see and

Also see previous post Caribbean and Haiti Scholar Colin Dayan elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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