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 relationships in the community were progressively falling apart (30). These changes threaten Sander County's sense of community. This manifests in the frequent condemnation of personal injury claims.
Sander County values an individualism that emphasizes self-sufficiency and personal responsibility rather than a rights-oriented individualism. To be a part of the community, an insider must embrace the reality that one's concerns are "not entirely one's own," that one's wants are linked to the wants of others (123). Pursuing a claim against someone else because of a personal injury is " an attempt to escape responsibility for one's own actions" (33). The wide- spread notion here is that the victims probably could have prevented the injury if they were more careful. This strong sense of self-reliance also stems from their perceptions of money. The people of Sander County, many of them farmers, work long and hard hours for their money. Dramatizing one's ill fortunes is not a legitimate means of acquiring it. As a rather close-knit community, the residents are well acquainted with each other and interact frequently if not on a daily basis. Pursuing a personal injury claim is not only atypical but rather awkward for the plaintiff since it is highly probable that he or she knows the defendant. This community pressure keeps the majority of the people from pursuing litigation for personal injuries. For example, a woman who lost her child in a car accident, influenced by community pressure, failed to file a claim. Instead, she settled for $12,000 (35). Wronged individuals usually react to injuries without litigation. They do so either...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document