Destabilizing the Normalization of Rural Black Land Loss: A Critical Role for Legal Empiricism

60 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2006


Mitchell's study exemplifies the New Legal Realist goal of combining qualitative and quantitative empirical research to shed light on important legal and policy issues. He also demonstrates the utility of a ground-level contextual analysis that examines legal problems from the bottom up. The study tracks processes by which black rural landowners have gradually been dispossessed of more than 90% of the land held by their predecessors in 1910. Mitchell points out that despite the continuing practices that contribute to this problem, there has been very little research on the issue, and what little attention legal scholars have paid to it has proceeded in an empirical vacuum. The article proceeds to examine existing data, and to describe the ongoing empirical research being conducted on black rural land loss in the U.S. south by Mitchell and his team. Mitchell concludes that a thoroughly contextual analysis (combining qualitative with quantitative methods) is necessary if we are to achieve an accurate understanding of the process by which law contributes to black rural land loss in this country. This kind of understanding will permit more effective policy decisions, both within and outside of the law.

Keywords: empirical legal studies, law and economics, discrimination, property, new legal realism, black land loss

JEL Classification: A13, D63, J15, K11, Q15

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, Thomas W., Destabilizing the Normalization of Rural Black Land Loss: A Critical Role for Legal Empiricism. Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2005, No. 2, pp. 557-615, 2005, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1014, Available at SSRN:

Thomas W. Mitchell (Contact Author)

Boston College Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States
(617) 552-1413 (Phone)

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