Law and Social Movements: Contemporary Perspectives

Posted: 18 Oct 2010

See all articles by Michael McCann

Michael McCann

University of Washington - Department of Political Science

Date Written: December 2006


Social movement scholars have long seemed little interested in law, and traditional legal scholars were little interested in social movement analysis by social scientists. However, recent years have seen growth of interest in the topic of law and social movements, with inquiry led by political scientists and law and society scholars. This review surveys that diverse literature, beginning with general theory regarding core concepts and then moving to a review of empirical studies organized around the multi-stage model derived from political process approaches and legal mobilization frameworks. The primary argument of the review is that law is contingent, and how it matters for social movements varies with the context and character of struggle. Most analysts agree that law generally works to support status quo conventions and hierarchical relationships, but sometimes law can be mobilized to challenge and even reconstitute the terms of institutional order.

Suggested Citation

McCann, Michael, Law and Social Movements: Contemporary Perspectives (December 2006). Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 2, pp. 17-38, 2006, Available at SSRN: or

Michael McCann (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Political Science ( email )

101 Gowen Hall
Box 353530
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

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