Ball, Matthew. Becoming a ‘Bastion Against Tyranny’: Australian Legal Education and the Government of the Self, Law and Critique, Volume 23, Issue 2, July 2012, Pages 103-122
Research into legal education suggests that many students enter law school with ideals about using the law to achieve social change, but graduate with some cynicism regarding these ideals. It is often argued that law schools provide a negative, competitive, and conservative environment for students, pushing many away from social justice ideals towards more self-interested, vocational concerns. This article uses Michel Foucault’s work on the government of the self to suggest another way of understanding this process. It examines a range of prescriptive texts that provide students with advice about how to study law and ‘survive’ law school. In doing so, it posits that this apparent loss of social ideals does not necessarily always signify that the student has become politically conservative or has had a negative educational experience. While these legal personae may appear outwardly conservative, and indeed still reflect particular gendered or raced perspectives, by examining the messages that these texts offer students, this article suggests that an apparent loss of social ideals can be the result of a productive shaping of the self. The legal persona they fashion can incorporate social justice ideals and necessitate specific ways of acting on those ideals. This analysis adds to the growing body of research that uses Foucault’s work to rethink common narratives of power and the shaping of the self in legal education, and provides legal educators with new ways of reflecting on the effects of legal education.
Foucault; Legal education; Legal persona; Practices of the self; Social justice; Student idealism