Professor of Law
Cochair, Law and Society Colloquium
A scholar of public law and a specialist in social science research, Frank Munger teaches Constitutional Law, Social Welfare Policy, Local Government, Land Use Planning and seminars on contemporary justice, poverty, and globalization issues.
Currently he is using his expertise in social science research to study the poverty of low-wage workers, global human rights, and America’s rapidly evolving social welfare policies.
He has conducted research in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and his recent books include Laboring Below the Line: The New Ethnography of Poverty, Low-wage Work, and Survival in the Global Economy (2002), a collection of essays by leading poverty scholars, economists, historians, and lawyers on the future of low-wage work and poverty in a globalizing economy, based on papers delivered at a conference he organized with funding from the Russell Sage Foundation. Rights of Inclusion: Law and Identity in the Lives of Americans with Disabilities (2003), is coauthored with Professor David Engel (SUNY Buffalo) and received the Gustavus Meyers Human Rights Award in 2003. An earlier coauthored article, "Rights, Remembrance and the Reconciliation of Difference," published in the Law & Society Review, received the first annual Law and Society Article Award in 1997. Rights of Inclusion describes the subtle and informal influence of rights on the everyday lives of persons with disabilities. His most recent book, Law and Poverty (2006) is an edited collection of classic interdisciplinary essays published in 2006 intended as a resource for teachers and poverty scholars. He is currently writing a book about his empirical research on the effects devolution and privatization of welfare administration. He is also conducting fieldwork in Southeast Asia (Thailand) through interviews with lawyers, law teachers, and ordinary people about the impact of recent constitutional reforms and global pressure for legal change.
Professor Munger has been General Editor of the Law & Society Review, President of the Law and Society Association, Chair of the Section on Sociology of Law of the American Sociological Association, Chair of the Law and Social Sciences section of the American Association of Law Schools, and has served on numerous editorial boards and government research review panels. He has served as Academic Dean of Antioch Law School. Currently, he is a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Social Welfare Committee. He is a co organizer of the New York Law and Society Colloquium, an interdisciplinary workshop featuring leading international scholars sponsored jointly by New York Law School and the Law and Society Institute at New York University.
A product of the 1960s, when concern about social justice was on the minds of many law students, Frank W. Munger has made law teaching and research on social change his career.
His most recent focus has been on how the United States has mismanaged its policies for the relief of poverty.
“The discussion of reform has been too narrow and is conducted without consulting poor people,” Professor Munger says. “We need to democratize the discussion of poverty. The sense of insecurity is a widely shared experience. Middle-class families face bankruptcy, mainstream workers lose jobs, and employees are left without pensions due to the same market forces that produce poverty.”
But the law professor, who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Michigan along with a J.D. from Michigan Law School, says this reality is obscured because people who receive welfare are singled out as inadequate and different from the working population. “The challenge is to get people to recognize that the problem is much broader,” he says.
To that end, Professor Munger has written and lectured extensively on the subject. He organized a conference in 1997, “Workshop on Poverty, Low-Wage Labor, and Social Retrenchment,” which was held at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he taught law from 1985 to 1999.
Prior to that, he was an attorney and law professor at Antioch School of Law (now the David Clarke Law School of the District of Columbia) in Washington, D.C., for 11 years with a one-year visit at American University. He joined the faculty at New York Law School in 1999 as a visiting professor and was appointed professor of law in 2002.
Professor Munger produced an edited volume of the commentary at the 1997 poverty workshop called Laboring Below the Line: The New Ethnography of Poverty, Low-Wage Work, and Survival in the Global Economy. The volume includes his commentary on how to make detailed personal accounts more effective guides to poverty policy. He has also written about the Americans with Disabilities Act, coauthoring the book, Rights of Inclusion: Law and Identity in the Lives of Americans with Disabilities (The University of Chicago Press, 2003).
In other areas of research interest, he has written articles on social change, class structure, and law during the Progressive Era. He is in the process of collecting those works into a book.
In educating law students about poverty, he finds a primary task is helping them understand who is poor and why, to offer them an alternative method of analysis of the social context in which poverty exists. But Professor Munger says that once his students consider these questions more carefully, they become eager to explore the issue further and he encourages their independent research. Using his interdisciplinary background, he steers them into areas outside the traditional law-related literature—anthropology, sociology, economics, and cultural studies.
He began to study law because he “wanted to do something to improve the legal system,” and by extension to influence public policy. He also campaigns to make the legal system more accessible to ordinary citizens.
“Much, much less effort goes to people with no money. There can’t be equal justice if we don’t have equal representation,” Professor Munger says.
Kenyon College, B.A., 1964 summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa
University of Michigan, J.D. 1968, Ph.D. (Sociology) 1977. Legal Services Corporation Fulbright Fellow (1964-65), Woodrow Wilson Fellow. Research Fellowship, 1981-82; Appalachian Studies Fellowship, Berea College, 1981.
Writes and lectures extensively on ethnography of poverty, low-wage work, and social retrenchment.