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Postmodernism, Representation, Law

61 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2007 Last revised: 18 Dec 2008

Reza Dibadj

University of San Francisco - School of Law


This Article seeks to go beyond cute rhetorical labels to consider what, if anything, postmodernism might mean, and why legal scholars should care. I cover an eclectic mix of characters, from postmodernism's principal theorists to some of its most flamboyant practitioners. I discuss Lyotard and Warhol, Baudrillard and Madonna, Foucault and Venturi, Derrida and Snoop Doggy Dog, Rorty and Gehry, to name just a few. At times, the journey might seem amusing, perhaps even strange. But it is important to remember throughout that one simple question drives the Article: does any of this matter to law, and if so, how should it be applied?

My thesis is that once one clears the underbrush of jargon and pessimism, postmodernism can most usefully be understood as a movement that struggles with how to represent a messy, chaotic world where simple reassuring stories will not do. After discussing postmodernism's attention to the context in which signs and symbols appear and how they are mediated, I develop two main points. First, scattered strands of postmodern legal scholarship might regroup to question how law decontextualizes and mediates power relations. Doing so would enable a more constructive agenda for reform. Second, and more fundamentally, postmodernism offers a chance at mapping new topologies within which to represent reality more accurately and more fully engage in the world in which we live. I emphasize network theory and participatory democracy.

Keywords: postmodernism, representation, law

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

Dibadj, Reza, Postmodernism, Representation, Law. University of Hawaii Law Review, Vol. 29, p. 377, 2007; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2009-03. Available at SSRN:

Reza Dibadj (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States
415-422-5253 (Phone)

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