Professor Jeannie Suk

At Home in the Law

Winner of the Herbert Jacob Prize, awarded by the Law and Society Association for the most outstanding law and society book published in 2009. The past few decades have witnessed a revolution in the way that law shapes the idea and reality of the home. Jeannie Suk shows how legal feminism has replaced the traditional notion of home as a man’s castle with the idea that home is a place where women are subordinated to male control and need government protection. Changes designed to protect women from domestic violence have developed into a comprehensive legal regime that treats the home as a site of potential or actual violence. The unexpected consequences of this legal reform have redistributed power among women, men, and the state.

Suk examines major developments in contemporary U.S. law pertaining to domestic violence, self-defense, privacy, sexual autonomy, and property in order to illuminate the changing relation between home and the law. Increasing state control has led to expanded definitions of what constitutes violence, mandatory arrest of those suspected of domestic violence, and obligatory criminal charges in place of prosecutorial discretion. Protection orders that prohibit all contact between suspected abusers and their partners are designed to end relationships—even over victims’ objections. The law’s rapidly changing picture of the home has fundamentally moved the boundary between public and private space. The result, unintended by domestic violence reformers, is to reduce the autonomy of women in relation to the state.

Jeannie Suk is Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard University and Senior Fellow of the Humanities Center there. She took her doctorate in literature at Oxford, where she studied as a Marshall Scholar. She received her law degree from Harvard and subsequently clerked on the United States Supreme Court. She is a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow.

“Jeannie Suk has written an exemplary book that demonstrates law’s humanity while exploring the deep link between law and the humanities. Her study of the concept of the ‘home’ in law, literature, and social theory is a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the needs and interests of human security.”—Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenburg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

“A fascinating analysis of our changing conceptions of privacy, gender, and the reach of the law. Suk’s incisive analyses are expressed in engaging prose and enlivened with gripping examples. The book will be just as interesting to lay people as it is to legal scholars.”—Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought

“A deeply interesting, original, and also a troubling book. Jeannie Suk, in a persuasive analysis that calls on cultural as well as legal understanding, shows dramatically how the law has entered the home in unexpected ways.”—Peter Brooks, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholar, Princeton University

“An expertly written and thought-provoking read.”—Harvard Law Review

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