Nancy Levit


In Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, Joan Williams sets out to alter the terms of the public discussion about working, caregiving, and work-family conflicts. Other participants in this Colloquy discuss the ways in which she does a tremendous job of accomplishing this objective. Whether she intends it or not, Williams does something else that is extremely significant: she reframes part of the conversation about the use of narratives in legal analysis and policy-making.

Part I of this Essay describes the history of the debate about the value of narrative as legal scholarship. Part II examines the explosion of stories and attention to storytelling both inside and outside the legal academy. It also reviews emerging evidence from cognitive neuroscience about the importance of stories to the ways humans understand the world. In Part III, the Essay centers on media-created narratives and focuses on Joan Williams’s instructive methodology for interrogating press-constructed myths. Moving from dismantling to reconstruction, Part IV circles back to the importance of stories—and the ways academics can develop counternarratives that can help reshape public understandings about work, families, and fairness.