VOLUME 4 ISSUE 1 NOVEMBER 2016
Who Let the Dogs Out?! A Review of Colin Dayan’s The Law is a White Dog
The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons
Princeton University Press (2011)
Book length: 364 pages
What do humans, dogs and spirits have in common? wonders Colin Dayan at the beginning of her book The Law is a White Dog. Her answer is not long in coming: they all share the way in which the law makes and unmakes their personhood; in other words, how the law can consider them as persons or objects—or even both at once—depending on the context and the historical circumstances. With this in mind, Dayan embarks on the arduous task of studying how slaves, prisoners, things, dogs and spirits can gain or lose personhood through the law, and how through these processes ‘disabled entities’ can be created. Dayan uses dogs and ghosts to enter into that realm where dispossessions and incapacitations materialise, where some human and non-human entities are placed beyond the boundaries of the community and at the edges of civilisation, in an area haunted by criminals, outcasts, beasts and monsters where myth and reality intertwine, showing in flesh what it means to be ‘creatures of the law’. Dayan’s argument is highly original and often controversial, and it is clear that her contribution has attracted attention in academic and intellectual circles since her book has been selected by Choice as one of twenty-five ‘Outstanding Academic Books’ in 2011.