Encountering Amateurism: John Henry Wigmore and the Uses of American Formalism

86 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2001

Date Written: Undated


This article explores the productive uses of amateurism in comparative law through a close reading of the life and work of John Henry Wigmore, the founder of the American tradition of comparative law who first came to the subject as a young missionary for the Langdellian style of American legal education in turn-of-the-century Japan. Drawing on anthropological and linguistic theory, the article explains amateurism as a post-Realist epithet for formalism. It seeks to counter the received view of the discipline as a pure product of American and European critiques of legal classicism by demonstrating how Wigmore's turn to the performative dimensions of legal formalism, at a moment when formalism found itself under Realist attack, provided a sustaining vision of the discipline. The power and creativity of formalist performance, as well as its limitations and even dangers, as deployed by Wigmore, raise questions relevant beyond comparative law about the aesthetic dimensions of American formalism.

Suggested Citation

Riles, Annelise and Riles, Annelise, Encountering Amateurism: John Henry Wigmore and the Uses of American Formalism (Undated). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 00-6, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=249148 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.249148

Annelise Riles (Contact Author)

Buffett Institute of Global Affairs ( email )

1902 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL
United States

Northwestern Law School ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
(312) 503-1018 (Phone)
(312) 988-6579 (Fax)

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