A tribute to the work of Patricia Williams.

Author:Franke, Katherine
Position:Fourth Annual Symposium: The Work of Patricia Williams - Testimonial

I want to welcome all of you to Columbia Law School, and to the fourth annual Symposium hosted by the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. Some of you might have been with us for previous Symposia last year we came together to honor the work of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and to acknowledge the fortieth anniversary of her joining the Columbia Law faculty as its first tenured female professor. In prior years, we have honored the work of Judith Butler and Martha Nussbaum.

Our aim with this symposium is to take a full day to reflect on the body of work of a scholar who writes in, or at least near, law and whose work has had a significant impact on our thinking about sexual and/or gender-based justice.

The task of selecting an honoree is not an easy one--as we aim to take up a corpus of work that is at once deep enough and broad enough to sustain a full day of conversation. To be honest, most legal scholars tend to be more hedgehogs than foxes, burrowing down deep into an area of law over the course of a career rather than bringing their intellectual talents to bear on a range of social problems or diverse disciplinary locations.

One person, without question, stands out as an exception to this tendency in the legal academy, and that is the incredible Patricia Williams.

Her work has challenged a generation of students of race, gender, and law to question the received wisdom of what it means to live in a society committed to race and gender-based equality. She asks us to entertain a level of personal and political discomfort previously unknown to something we might call "legal scholarship." Her writing stages a confrontation between the word on the page, the woman who penned that word, and you as the reader, using memoir, history, literature, popular culture, media, and, of course, law, to unearth some of the most challenging questions about justice--justice as a legal project, justice as a social project, and the ways in which justice is always at stake when we set out to craft a sense of an integrated self. She has described this as "the complex ritual of mirroring and self-assembly." (1) In this sense, justice is both a public and a private enterprise in Williams' writing.

Her work makes an argument about the gap--sometimes abyss--that lies between law and justice. But her arguments don't just use the familiar tools of the legal trade--rationality and logic, objectivity and detachment, rules and precedent--rather, her craft relies equally on...

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