Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Legal Studies

Reader 1

Mark Golub

Reader 2

Jennifer Groscup

Rights Information

© 2016 Phoebe Shen


The cultural defense is an informal term that describes the use of cultural information to mitigate criminal responsibility, often used in conjunction with traditional defense strategies such as provocation or insanity. Arguments for the cultural defense include respecting cultural practices under the liberal narrative that frames the United States as a multicultural and pluralistic society. Advocates of the cultural defense recognize the harmful effects of the false universalism of the law. However, the cultural defense has been criticized as essentialist and harmful as it has been used in high profile cases to justify violence against women of color. The cultural defense superficially prioritizes the needs of marginalized communities by acknowledging the importance of culture in the administration of the criminal law. The rationale behind the cultural defense is politically appealing, but the impacts of the defense are incompatible with the goals of antisubordination, which will be further described by Critical Race Theory. Because the debate surrounding the cultural defense has yet to make significant advances, I argue that Critical Race Theory offers an essential starting point in intervening in the debate, ultimately transforming the realm of legal jurisprudence through its explicit race consciousness and examination of racialized power. In particular, I will examine the concepts of intersectionality and interest convergence which will offer valuable perspective into the cultural defense debate.

Included in

Legal Theory Commons