Law 561A/B - Law and Dystopia

Angela R. Riley

Angela R. Riley

​Professor of Law
Director, MA/JD Joint Degree Program in Law and American Indian Studies
Director, Native Nations Law and Policy Center
B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1995
J.D., Harvard, 1998
Course Description:

This Perspectives Seminar will examine law in dystopian societies.  Dystopian societies are often depicted in film and fiction, usually set in a future world characterized by totalitarianism, environmental degradation, dehumanization, and a collapse of the rule of law.  In such fictionalized nation-states of the future, common tropes include harsh restrictions on the free press and other civil liberties in the name of “national security”, attacks on the independent judiciary, a rise in xenophobia and nationalism, and rampant police brutality without accountability.  Dystopia provides a fertile lens for students to consider how an adherence and commitment to the rule of law stands as a barrier to a state’s failure. Thus, an examination of law in dystopian societies offers a jumping off point for formulating critiques of contemporary legal structures and frameworks, including laws governing: immigration, economic stratification, deterioration of rights to privacy, environmental protection, reproductive rights, and treatment of refugees and other “disfavored” groups, including racial, religious, and sexual minorities.    

In this Seminar, students will be challenged to identify the role of law – both formal and informal – in contributing to the decline or, alternately, the rehabilitation, of society.  Where appropriate, the course will draw on current events as well as established (and proposed) laws – in the United States and, where applicable, internationally – to analyze and critique legal regimes in contemporary society.  In particular, students will be expected to think critically about law in dystopian societies, but also to consider what alternate legal rules or structures would constitute an improvement or feasible alternative, particularly where future societies are challenged to balance safety and security in the face of foreign threats or impending apocalypse.

Dates, Times, and Expected Locations:  

Tuesday evenings at my house in Beverly Hills from 6-8:30 on September 19, October 17, November 14, January 23, March 20.