Law and Outlaw: Personal Identity and Social Control in the United States


Fall 2013, Winter 2014 and Spring 2014 quarters

Taught by

U.S. history
law, literature, theatre

As currently measured by the United Nations' Human Development Index, the United States has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Average life expectancies, educational levels, and annual incomes place even poor Americans among the most privileged people on earth. Even so, there are gross inequalities inside the U.S. Factors of personal identity, including race, class, and gender, predict with uncanny precision the range of life choices available to any given individual. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Cities are rife with violence, the political system is polarized and corrupt, and personal lives of rich and poor are marked by addiction, excess, apathy, and want. 

This program questions how this has happened: How do the personal identities and everyday lives of a people come together to shape social, economic, and political conditions in a nation like the United States? How do such conditions, in turn, shape individual identities and lives? What institutions have framed and enforced these conditions over time? What institutions currently sustain them? How do diverse Americans understand and react to these conditions? What can we do to make things better now?  To find answers, we will focus on two institutions fundamental to personal identity and social control in the American present and past – law and commerce. We will examine how property law and the criminal justice system in particular have shaped American history, how history has shaped them, and how both have managed personal identities through social control.

In fall quarter, we will study the diverse array of social, economic, and political relationships that developed in the U.S. from settlement to the end of slavery. In winter, we will examine changes in relationships from the closing of the western frontier through the present. In spring, we will place our own lives in proximate context with exploration of contemporary theories of personal identity and social control. In all quarters, we will make a visual study of "the outlaw" as a trope both romanticized and reviled in American folklore and popular culture. We will also place U.S. economic development into a general global context. Interdisciplinary readings will include legal studies, legal history, social and economic history, critical race studies, visual studies, and feminist theory. Classes will include discussion seminars, writing workshops, lectures, student panel presentations, library study periods, and occasional film screenings.

Program assignments will help us grow in the art and craft of clear communication and well-supported argumentation. They will include critical reading, academic writing, research in peer-reviewed literature, and public outreach and speaking. A digital photography component will explore "the outlaw" through visual expression. In spring, internship opportunities and individualized learning plans will bring program themes to social outreach agencies and groups in our local community.

This program will offer appropriate support to all students ready to do advanced work. Activities will support student peer-to-peer teaching, personal responsibility for learning and achievement, contemplative study habits, and intensive skills development. Transfer students are welcome.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

law, education, public policy, social work, social entrepreneurship, and criminal justice.

Academic Website

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Internship Possibilities

Spring: social justice and social outreach organizations with faculty approval.

Research Possibilities

Spring: individualized instruction and support for research in peer-reviewed academic literature.


Date Revision
January 28th, 2014 This program will accept new enrollment spring quarter with faculty approval.
November 22nd, 2013 This program will accept new enrollment with faculty approval.
November 6th, 2013 This program will not accept new enrollment winter quarter.
May 1st, 2013 New opportunity added.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Variable Credit Options

variable credit option available with faculty approval.

Class standing: Junior–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Course Reference Numbers

Jr - Sr (16 credits): 10317
Jr - Sr (1-16 credits): 10632

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Accepting New Students

Signature Required

Student must have previous study in Constitutional Law, Legal History, or its equivalent (4 credits) and U.S. History or its equivalent (4 credits).  Contact the faculty for more information.

Course Reference Numbers

Jr - Sr (16 credits): 20228
Jr - Sr (1-16 credits): 20355

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Signature Required

Student must have previous study in Constitutional Law, Legal History, or its equivalent (4 credits) and U.S. History or its equivalent (4 credits).  Contact the faculty for more information.

Course Reference Numbers

Jr - Sr (16 credits): 30197
Jr - Sr (1-16 credits): 30278

Go to to register for this program.

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