Reconstructing Critical Legal Studies
34 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2023
Date Written: August 4, 2023
It is an increasingly propitious moment to build another radical theory of the law, after decades of relative quiescence in the law schools since the last such opportunity. This essay offers a reinterpretation of the legacy of critical theories of the law, arguing that they afford useful starting points for any radical approach, and not merely cautionary tales of how not to proceed. The essay revisits the critical legal studies movement in particular and imagines its reconstruction. Critical legal studies extended the social theory of the law pioneered by legal realism, and framed law as a forceful instrument of domination, though one that is compatible with both functional and interpretative underdetermination. Legal order oppresses, and the way it does so is never accidental or random, while regularly accommodating alternative pathways of control and contestation. Analogously, law is often determinate, which is how it can so routinely serve oppression, even though it does so in and through processes of interpretation of elusive or vague legal meaning by courts and other institutions. The essay concludes by showing that the parameters of a radical social theory of the law—parameters we should reclaim critical legal studies for helping establish—apply to current or future attempts to build any successor, taking account of critical race theory, feminist legal thought, and most especially the emergent “law and political economy” movement. Had critical legal studies never existed, it would have to be invented today.
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