Negotiating Responsibility: Law, Murder, and States of Mind
The meaning of criminal responsibility emerged in early- to mid-twentieth-century Canadian capital murder cases through a complex synthesis of socio-cultural, medical, and legal processes. Kimberley White places the negotiable concept of responsibility at the centre of her interdisciplinary inquiry, rather than the more fixed legal concepts of insanity or guilt. In doing so she brings subtlety to more general arguments about the historical relationship between law and psychiatry, the insanity defence, and the role of psychiatric expertise in criminal law cases.
Through capital murder case files, White examines how the idea of criminal responsibility was produced, organized, and legitimized in and through institutional structures such as remissions, trial, and post-trial procedures; identity politics of race, character, citizenship, and gender; and overlapping narratives of mind-state and capacity. In particular, she points to the subtle but deeply influential ways in which common sense about crime, punishment, criminality, and human nature shaped the boundaries of expert knowledge at every stage of the judicial process.
Negotiating Responsibility fills a void in Western socio-legal history scholarship and provides an essential point of reference from which to evaluate current criminal law practices and law reform initiatives in Canada. It will be of interest to academics and students in the critical fields of law and society, history, criminology, and cultural studies.