Prof. Dr. Greta Olson

Justus Liebig University Giessen

Prof. Dr. Greta OlsonCurriculum Vitae

Greta Olson studied philosophy and studio art at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, as well as art history and philosophy at University College London and holds a master’s degree in philosophy and English from the University of Freiburg. There she also received her PhD in English, philosophy, and comparative linguistics as well as the venia legendi in American and English literature and cultural studies for her habilitation thesis “‘Criminal Beasts’ and the Rise of Positivist Criminology – From Shakespeare to Dickens”. From 2000 to 2002 Greta Olson worked as a lecturer at the University of Freiburg and was a guest lecturer at the Universities of Innsbruck (2001) and Basel (2003). From 2002 to 2003 she was a guest professor in American studies at the University of Bonn. In 2004, she became assistant professor under the auspices of a German Research Foundation grant at the University of Freiburg, before she moved to Giessen, where she became Professor of English and American literature and cultural studies at Justus Liebig University in 2009. Professor Olson is a general editor of the European Journal of English Studies (EJES), and, with Jeanne Gaakeer, the co-founder of the European Network for Law and Literature. Her research interests include Law and Literature/cultural approaches to law, the politics of narrative forms, critical US American Studies, and feminist and sexuality studies. Following a first research stay at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” from April to September 2014, she was from April to September 2016, once again Fellow in Bonn.

Research Project

Law’s Pluralities: The Present and Multiple Futures of Law and Literature

Law’s Pluralities maps the current state of Law and Literature research, names central controversies, and describes viable trajectories of future research. The opening chapter argues that efforts to rebrand Law and Literature alternately as Law and the Humanities or as Law and Narrative are misguided and thus advocates instead for a cultural studies approach to law that is augmented by the insights of other “Law and X” or gap studies. Mapping the continuing, if highly erratic, influence of critical theory on legal research and practice, the second chapter then describes the “affective turn” in Law and Literature scholarship. Following out of the fundamental critique of the humanist subject that has been provided by feminism, critical race theory, posthumanism, and the new ontology, critical theorists display a new interest in exploring legal existence as non-narratively constituted, as embodied and as affectively produced.

The third chapter proceeds to ask, with Richard Sherwin, if law has indeed gone pop, by reviewing various versions of the CSI-effect thesis with its contention that the frequent viewing of forensic crime shows leads to a heightened expectation that incontrovertible scientific evidence will be presented in the courtroom and, in in this theory’s wider version, that heavy consumption of law-related series will alter viewer perceptions of legal processes more generally. Against vulgar versions of cultivation theory that suggest that more consumption automatically leads to more distorted opinions about law, the chapter argues for the relevance of comparative work in lex populi. Not only do viewers respond to fictionalized representations of law in highly varied fashions depending on their relative social positions and experiences within their legal settings, but the comparison of German and US American legal television series demonstrates that generically equivalent shows intervene in the cultures in which they are produced and transmitted quite differently. For instance, whereas Judge Judy (1996 – present) dramatizes a desire for punitive justice via Judge Judy’s public shaming of her pseudo litigants, the series’ German copy-cat Richterin Barbara Salesch (Judge Barbara Salesch, 1999-2012) provides a public negotiation of normative behaviors that is enacted through Judge Salesch’s insightful questioning of her witnesses and translation of legal concepts into lay terms. Arguably, a neo-liberal attitude towards personal responsibility is displayed in the US American series, while a trust in the efficacy and fairness of the legal system is encouraged in the German one. A comparison of the German dramatic comedy about a single women lawyer Danni Lowinski (2010 – 2014) with the American Drop Dead Diva (2009- 2014) again makes evident how generically similar texts respond to divergent sociolegal preoccupations. Whereas episodes in Danni Lowinski negotiate public concerns about the integration of Sharia family law in the German context and continuing problems of hostility towards non-ethnic Germans, the US series focuses on civil rights issues and features cases concerning discrimination based on prejudices about weight, homosexuality, and transsexuality.

Continuing the argument for comparatism, the fourth chapter names three historically diverse situations in which a people’s desire for a more equitable legal system led them to create an alternative normative order through aesthetic means; thus where legal and governmental institutions do not ensure civility and rights, as for African Americans in the period before 1965 of for many Brazilians in the present, the literary has a particularly powerful role to play. During periods of sociallegal contestation, fictional forms serve as alternative conveyers of narratives of citizenship and help to imagine forms of legal representation where they are lacking. Thus the chapter advocates for the enunciation of localized Law and Literatures that address the linguistic particularities and the non-translatability and heterogeneity of individual cultures; it thus contests the assumed universalism of North American models of research. In the conclusion, entitled “Why should we care?” the author attests to the continued viability of a pluralistically understood Law and Literature for legal education and practice.

Selected Publications

  • “The Turn to Passion: Has Law and Literature become Law and Affect?” Special Issue on “Legal Personhood.” Ed. Frans-Willem Korsten and Yasco Horstmann. Law and Literature 2016.
  • “Futures of Law and Literature: A Preliminary Overview from a Culturalist Perspective.” Recht und Literatur im Zwischenraum/Law and Literature In-Between: Aktuelle inter- und transdisziplinäre Zugänge/Contemporary Inter- and Transdisciplinary Approaches. Ed. Christian Hiebaum, Susanne Knaller, Doris Pichler, Bielefeld: transcript 2015. 37-69.
  • “Towards a Comparative and Localized Study of Brazilian Law and Literature.” Direito e Literatura na Virada do Milênio/ Law and Literature at the Turn of the Millennium. Ed. Sonja Arnold and Michael Korfmann, Porto Alegre: Editora Dublinense 2014. 15-38.
  •  “‘Like a Dog’: Rituals of Animal Degradation in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Abu Ghraib Prison.” Journal of Narrative Theory 44.1 (Spring 2014): 116-156.
  • Narration and Narrative in Legal Discourse, in: Peter Hühn et al. (Eds.): Living Handbook of Narratology, Hamburg University Press, 2014
  • Criminals as Animals from Shakespeare to Lombroso. Law and Literature Series 8, Berlin and New York: De Gruyter 2013.
  • New Theories, Models and Methods in Literary and Cultural Studies: Theory into Practice (Ed. with Ansgar Nünning), Trier: WVT 2013.
  • “Law is not Turgid and Literature not Soft and Fleshy: Gendering and Heteronormativity in Law and Literature Scholarship.” Special Issue on “Law and Humanities Futures.” Ed. Marett Leiboff. Australian Feminist Law Journal 36 (2012): 65-86.
  • Obama and the Paradigm Shift – Measuring Change (Ed. with Birte Christ), Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter 2012.
  • 9/11 Ten Years On (Ed.). Special Issue of Der Fremdsprachliche Unterricht Englisch 111 (May) 2011.
  • Current Trends in Narratology (Ed.), Berlin and New York: De Gruyter 2011.
  • ‘De-Americanizing Law-and-Literature Narratives: Opening up the Story.’ Law & Literature 22.1. 2010.
  • ‘Law, Literature, and Language.’ European Journal of English Studies 11.1 (Ed. with Martin Kayman), Routledge 2007.
  • In the Grip of the Law: Trials, Prisons and the Space Between (Ed. with Monika Fludernik), Frankfurt: Peter Lang 2004.
  • Reading Eating Disorders: Writings on Bulimia and Anorexia as Confessions of American Culture. Frankfurt: Peter Lang 2003.