Lauren Pepitone

  • Fellowship year:2014-2015
  • University: Johns Hopkins University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: Legal London: Gender, Space, and the Culture of the Bar 1850-1940
  • My doctoral dissertation departs from highly compartmentalized studies of the legal profession to connect work on professional culture, the built environment, gender relations, and the implications of geo-politics in the metropole. The study asks how the Inns of Court, change-resistant institutions that regulated the highest reaches of the English and imperial bars, included or resisted colonial subjects, political dissidents, and women in the legal profession. It interprets a variety of socio-political acts of disobedience, from breaches of legal etiquette to convictions of sedition, to be forms of resistance to institutional control. By connecting practices of preferment to historic ritual and architectural space, it suggests a methodology for studying discrimination across a range of institutions, historical and contemporary.

    The project contextualizes legal culture at the Inns of Court by investigating architectural spaces and embodied practices that inducted members of the Victorian bar into a resolutely English, masculine sociability. The conservative societies derived their authority from common law precedent and privileged tradition and continuity with the past. They relied on fraternization with older generations to inculcate new members with legal knowledge, expecting law students to have a vested interest in internalizing the societies' customs. By the turn of the century, however, the Inns faced increasing of numbers of colonial subjects, ethnic minorities, and politically radical members whose priorities did not align with the conservatism of the Inns. Despite contemporary characterizations as being fusty and outmoded, these centripetal societies reacted to changing demographics and their broader geo-political roots in varied, and sometimes surprising, ways. In the face of pacifism, colonial independence movements, and Bolshevik revolution, the societies manipulated legal etiquette and rules to deliberately excuse or disbar members along lines that ignored the legality or illegality of members' actions. Furthermore, the project considers forced spatial separations between male and female members and the disadvantages they created in a profession in which success was predicated on socialization. It argues that women deliberately de-emphasized their femininity to accord with the Inns' masculine culture. Overall, unlike narratives of professionalization that chart the absorption of autonomous authorities by government bureaucracy, this study argues that the Inns of Court responded to changes around them with concessions just broad enough to stave off outside interventions while maintaining their core values and monopoly over the bar.