CONTEMPORARY FIRST AMENDMENT ISSUES

FREE SPEECH THEORY IN A COMMERCIAL CULTURE,
THE MEANING OF "DISSENT,"
AND SPEECH RIGHTS IN THE AGE OF ROBOTICS

PROFESSOR SKOVER

FALL 2018

FOCUS OF STUDY

 

As the pre-registration course description indicates, this seminar is not a study of the federal constitutional or administrative regulation of contemporary mass media. Although First Amendment norms and institutions will be examined at a theoretical level, this seminar cannot be characterized as a detailed study of the "black-letter" doctrines of American free speech law.

The central focus of this seminar is the exploration of the "ecology" of mass communications (that is, the phenomena of mass communications from the perspectives of history, sociology, political theory, technology, and cultural studies) and the relationship of this ecology to American legal theory and legal institutions.  Correspondingly, the assigned readings and class discussion will center on various dimensions of the relationship between free speech theories and mass communications technologies.

For example, the socio-economic and political conventions that evolved from the use of particular technologies for mass communications and the law's understanding and control of these conventions will be one of the more important aspects of our study.  In other words, one of our objectives is to become aware of the degree to which the technologies of communication affect the substantive content of communication, (a part of what Marshall McLuhan means by his famous aphorism that "the medium is the message"), and of the degree to which the law does or does not take account of this synergy in its governance. In short, it is important for us to become aware of the degree to which the technologies of communication influence the theories and practices of the First Amendment. .

For another example, our study will explore whether the First Amendment's traditional justifications for protecting the freedoms of speech -- to safeguard deliberative democracy, to promote enlightened political participation and dissent, to encourage serious literary and artistic expression -- are trivialized in our entertainment and commercial mass culture and rendered increasingly irrelevant to speech protections in the age of robotics.

These examples are merely illustrative of the nature and scope of the topics that we will be examining.

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