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Selected Topics in Social and Moral Regulation


Professor Emeritus, Law and Society Program, Department of Social Science, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and Sociology, Glendon

Past President, Canadian Law and Society Association


Degrees- University of California, Berkeley, 1977, Ph.D. in Sociology; Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, LL. B., 1985

For the past decade, my research has centered on exploring the interpenetration of law and moral regulation as well as the interrelationship between legal discourse and popular discourse. I believe that law or what others have called the juridical dimension of social life has not been exploited sufficiently for what it can reveal about the creation, maintenance, and change in the moral boundaries of society.

My undergraduate courses include the following: Social Dimensions of Criminal Justice - which explores both the selective inclusion and exclusion of social considerations such as class, gender, and ethnicity in setting legal norms and the contribution that legal norms make towards setting the boundaries of responsibility:; and Popular Trials - which looks at how the ritual performance of law is transformed through the various media into defining moments or cultural reference points for a community.

Between 1997 and 2001, I was director of the Law and Society programme in the Division of Social Science- a large undergraduate program for students who want to pursue interdisciplinary approaches to the study of law. From 2008-2010, I served as director of our Graduate Program in Socio-Legal Studies (see for further information) and between 2010 and 2012, I was president of the Canadian Law and Society Association, our national association for interdiscipinary legal studies. For membership in our national association, please consult our website above.

My current research analyzes the social processes by which remorsefulness and remorselessness are claimed by self and attributed by other. Law is one important site for this process in that considerations of remorse enter into judgments about parole, sentencing, dangerous offender status in Canada and capital punishment in the United States. I have begun to explore this process in recent papers- "Detecting Remorse and Its Absence in the Criminal Justice System," in Austin Sarat and Patricia Ewick, Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Volume 19, JAI Press, 1999, pp.121-135; "Showing Remorse: The Gap Between Expression and Attribution in Cases of Wrongful Conviction," Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Jan., 2004, pp.121-138; "Showing Remorse at the TRC: Towards a Constitutive Approach to Reparative Justice," in University of Windsor Access to Justice, Vol. 2.(2006), pp.221-239; "Remorse at the Penalty Phase of the Capital Trial: How Psychiatry's view of 'Moral Insanity' Helps Build the Case for Death," in Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol.42(2007), pp.187-217; "Being and Doing: The Judicial Use of Remorse to Construct Character and Community," Social and Legal Studies, Vol. 18, no.1(2009), pp.47-69 and "Coupling and Decoupling Remorse and Forgiveness," (2009) e-paper at  For links to all my published papers on remorse, click links to publications to the left of this page.

My other project derives from work on popular trials. Here I am interested in how the narrative form of the trial is transformed through the different media and how these representations challenge and compete with the official court representation.

Earlier publications also relevant to my current interests include Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in 17th Century Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts Press, 1984 ; "Reflections on the Oak Ridge Experiment with Mentally Disordered Offenders- 1965-1968," International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 18, No.3, Fall, 1995, pp.265-290; and "Constructing Joseph Fredericks: Competing Narratives of a Child Murderer," International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, January, 2005, co-authored with Michael Petrunik.

York University