Thursday, December 2, 2010

Peter Brooks – "Policing Stories" – article review and summary


Peter Brooks's classic article "Policing Stories" relates to the ongoing debate regarding the role of narrative in the judicial system and law theory. Brook's ground claim is that narrative function, in the court and in general, as a Kantian category of sorts which determines our grasp of a certain array of phenomenon and constructing it into a coherent understating, a function which naturally hold much weight in the courtroom. Based on this understanding of the role and function of narrative Brooks argues that there exists a repressed connection between law and narrative. Brooks engages with the exemplary question of whether details of a prior conviction should be presented when deliberating a similar yet separate offence performed by the same person, and he notes that the prevailing approach in law is to relate only to those details which are able to establish a logical syllogism between fact and rolling. Thus Brooks in fact demonstrates how courts do actually acknowledge to potency of narrative and its potential effect, but strive to reduce this capacity by "policing" stories through evidence law which limit the narrative into a shape that is agreeable by the court. Brooks holds that the attempt to limit narrative in judicial practice in fact reveals the law systems realization of the power of a story, and the attempt to deny it by adhering strictly to empirical evidence and sound logical conclusions. 
Peter Brooks argues that the court establishes the story with the compass of its own rules and conventions which are governed by its world view. The choice of details which make the narrative, what's included and what's left out, is what determines the choice between competing narratives.  

One of the notable case studies presented in Brooks's "Policing Stories" is a trail held following a woman's rape complaint. 4 versions of the event were presented (the woman, the assailant, the first appeal and second appeal). The facts of the matter under discussion were agreed upon, yet they served as basis for 4 completely different stories. Using this example Brooks argues that narrative does not consists only of facts but of the way they are understood together and establish evident meaning. This way, Brooks hold, depends on the judge's perception of reality which he refers to, following Roland Barthes, ad "doxa" (greek: conjecture).   Thus accounts of events delivered in court are not and cannot be strictly factual, despite the attempt to police them, and they articulate perceptions and values which latently guide all those practicing law in their ruling.
Peter Brook's recommendations in light of his analysis of the function of narrative in law are first to adopt narratology theory in order to track the narrative's function in the courtroom, this acknowledging it. He further claims that the reactions of agents that rule cases could be understood through the way the actively create, or construct, the story. This leads to the recognition o f narrative's function in law in particular and the way we perceive reality in general.

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