abigail cary moore
I analyze the oral arguments of myriad court cases involving disputes about the definition and legality of certain kinds of violence, including U.S. Supreme Court cases declaring the KKK’s ritual of burning crosses an act of protected speech rather than a threat of violence (Virginia v. Black 2003), and the boundaries of legal police use of force (Tennessee v. Garner 1984; Graham v. Connor 1989; Scott v. Harris 2007), as well as cases in the lower courts, such as the 2021 trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, at which the teen was acquitted for the shootings that resulted in the deaths of two men and injury of a third in Kenosha, WI. Through the textual analysis of these cases, it became clear that much of the interpretation taking place in the courtroom was deeply temporal, rooted in varying ways of situating a single sign in time. Thus, I argue that temporality is a crucial and undertheorized dimension of interpretation.
Moreover, my work examines acts of interpretation, with temporality at their cores, as acts of performative power. While performative power has primarily been theorized as arising in moments of dramatic change, if we return to the semiotic roots of the concept, particularly in the works of Judith Butler (through Derrida and JL Austin), we can use generative iteration of performative power as a way to describe and explain variably durable discourses and patterns of action. While the Supreme Court is perhaps a paradigmatic site of this phenomenon in action, I posit iteration as a useful way to interrogate the relationship between interpretation, performative power, and durability in any number of social structures.
Abigail Cary Moore is a cultural sociologist with interests in social theory, semiotics, race, and law and society. She holds a B.A. from Yale University in English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and an M.A. from the University of Virginia in Sociology. She will receive her Ph.D. from UVA in May 2023. Most recent publications include “Signs and Their Temporality: The Performative Power of Interpretation in the Supreme Court” (2022) in Sociological Theory; and “Policing Potential Violence” (2022) in New Political Science.