The Paradox Of Community Essay

The Paradox Of Community Essay

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The Paradox of Community


     “One can see that insiders are caught in the paradox of community: The
same cultural vocabulary that undermines community is simultaneously that
community's idiom of self-affirmation” (Greenhouse, et al. 175). In Law and
Community, David M. Engel explores how ordinary people in a small, rural,
Illinois town perceive the law, courts, litigants, and community. By analyzing
the legal practices and relations in Sander County, it is evident that law and
the courts play a central role in the processes of making and unmaking
communities. Furthermore, this study illustrates how such manifestations,
reflections of the “insider's” ideology, fail to live up to the promises for “
law” in our society.
     In the 1970s, Sander County was undergoing great social and economic
changes. Agriculture, a central part of life for most residents, became more
mechanized and a few large manufacturing plants opened, bringing in “quite a
number of a certain element” Sander County had “never had before” (29). Long-
time residents, worried about change, express what they believe to be “the new
role of laws and the courts in the local and national society“ (1).
     Though personal injury litigation rates are lower in Sander County than
other major types of litigation, a norm of aversion towards this legal discourse
is evident throughout the majority of the community. Those who enforce personal
injury claims are viewed by fellow residents as greedy, selfish, and “quick to
sue.” Litigation is portrayed as weakening the collective values personified in
the law as a means of turning the law against the community to make an “easy
buck” (144). Even highly respected members of the community are criticized for
making personal injury claims. For example, a minister filed a suit after
slipping and falling at a school. A local observer commented by saying there
are “a lot of people who are resentful for it, because...he chose to sue” (28).
The long-time residents of Sander County were experiencing a prevalent sense of
a collapse in the conventional dependencies and exchanges that had typified life
in Sander County. Understandings of personal injury claims are largely shaped
by these societal transformations as the local populace encounters them and also
by the notion that traditional relati...


... middle of paper ...


...ty (Carter 11).
The irony lies in the fact that the power of the insiders as a whole disempowers
the individual, whether the individual is an insider or an outsider. Every
member of Sander County is rather powerless before the law; the efforts to keep
the town safe from change paradoxically caused a lack of trust in the legal
process. This lack of trust contributes to the chaos of community that already
existed in Sander County.
     “Law is a language by which we constantly reconstruct our communities”
(Carter viii). Instead of constructing community through just legal discourse,
Sander County destructed what it had left of a community in a desperate act of
warding of that which it did not understand (or did not want to understand).
Law in practice, in Sander County, does not produce justice; it produces
inequality. This prevalent inequality, or difference, is a “justification of
litigation by ‘insiders' in defense of their community” (Greenhouse, et al. 175).
They fail to see that their myth of community is challenging “community.”
Disempowerment and inequality will not generate trust. Furthermore, of what use,
or longevity, is a community without trust?

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