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Blue Jeans, Rape, and the "De-Constitutive" Power of Law

Kitty Calavita
Law & Society Review
Vol. 35, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-116
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/3185387
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3185387
Page Count: 28
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Blue Jeans, Rape, and the "De-Constitutive" Power of Law
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Abstract

Italy's Supreme Court recently overturned a rape conviction on the grounds that the woman was wearing blue jeans at the time. The Court reasoned that blue jeans cannot be removed "without the active cooperation of the person who is wearing them," and therefore sexual intercourse must have been consensual. The decision was met with outrage by media commentators, political leaders, and ordinary Italians in a range of civic organizations. I argue here that this case and others like it are conspicuously inconsistent with a constitutive perspective that sees law and everyday normative orders as mutually embedded, or at least reciprocally reinforcing, and that focuses on law's hegemonic potential. In this revisiting of the constitutive approach, I propose that the concept of legal hegemony be elaborated to include the counterintuitive possibility that law can sabotage the very ideologies it invokes. For when an authoritative source such as law is so out of step with the evolving normative order, the shocking discrepancy exposes not only the fallibility of law but also the foolishness of the outdated moral vision it is caught endorsing. Finally, I suggest that it may be during "unsettled cultural periods" (Swidler 1986) that such "de-constitutive" moments are most likely.

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