Cynthia Merrill

Picture of Cynthia Merrill

Cynthia Merrill received her PhD in English from the University of Washington, then taught at UCLA in Writing Programs, Women’s Studies, the Honors Collegium, and the Department of English. In 2002, she was honored with a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award. She went on to earn a JD from Yale Law School in 2005 and practiced as an attorney while continuing her independent research. Her scholarship brings a feminist perspective to the interdisciplinary study of law and literary theory.

Merrill is currently writing a collection of essays on law, gender, and narrative, in which she examines how repressed, but highly gendered narratives have shaped legal doctrines crucial to women. She has presented versions of this work at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center, the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and Humanities, the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, and the Loyola University Chicago School of Law Constitutional Law Colloquium. In 2020, she published “Fictions of Constitutional Privacy: Toward a Linguistic Subject,” in Fictional Discourse and the Law, edited by Hans J. Lind. In legal scholarship and jurisprudence, the constitutional right to privacy—the guarantor of reproductive and sexual freedoms—has increasingly been conceptualized as a right to autonomy. However, autonomy requires not only a right to make self-defining intimate decisions, Merrill argues, but also a right to author the meaning of such choices—through dialogic interaction with, not subordination to, the state’s narratives. Reconceptualizing the subject of privacy as, in part, linguistic focuses attention on the state’s discursive intrusions into crucial processes of identity formation. Other topics to be addressed in the essay collection include the use of autobiography in legal theory, the ethics of identity-creating legal narratives in impact litigation, and narratives of trauma in the adjudication of women’s asylum claims.