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Inflationary Trends in Law and Development

45 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2013 Last revised: 18 Mar 2014

Benjamin van Rooij

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Penelope Nicholson

Melbourne Law School

Date Written: December 13, 2013


This paper analyses two seemingly contradictory trends in the study and practice of law and development. First it looks at the ever higher rising level of expectations and ambitions about what law can do for development. And second it looks at the increasingly vocal critique and frustration both from inside and outside the field that law often fails to achieve the desired developmental effects. The paper argues that there is a relationship between increasing ambition and lack of impact. Increasing ambition produces limited impacts, but ironically lack of impact creates recommendations to increase ambition. The paper concludes that this linked evolution originates first from forces outside of the law and development domain, such as increasing pressures on aid efficacy, shifts in developmental paradigms, and increased geo-political pressures to bring law into post-conflict states and peace building. However, the relationship between ambition and lack of impact is also internal to the field. Scholars and practitioners, we suggest, operate cyclically criticizing existing practices to launch new and often bolder developments. The paper calls for a break from these cycles, a return to basic interventions to make incremental improvement in the functioning of law in the context of development, and shift from lofty overarching paradigms that obscure and disappoint, rather than aid, development.

Keywords: law and development, legal empowerment, access to justice, rule of law, transitional justice, customary law

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

van Rooij, Benjamin and Nicholson, Penelope, Inflationary Trends in Law and Development (December 13, 2013). Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, 2014, Forthcoming; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2014-5. Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Van Rooij (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

Penelope Nicholson

Melbourne Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010

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