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legaltheory:criticaltheory

CriticalLegalStudiesMovement

AselfconsciousgroupoflegalscholarsfoundedtheConferenceonCriticalLegal
Studies(CLS)in1977.Mostofthemhadbeenlawstudentsinthe1960sandearly
1970s,andhadbeeninvolvedwiththecivilrightsmovement,Vietnamprotests,andthe
politicalandculturalchallengestoauthoritythatcharacterizedthatperiod.Theseevents
seemedtocontradicttheassumptionthatAmericanlawwasfundamentallyjustandthe
productofhistoricalprogressinstead,lawseemedagameheavilyloadedtofavorthe
wealthyandpowerful.Buttheseeventsalsosuggestedthatgrassrootsactivistsand
lawyerscouldproducesocialchange.

Fundamentallyconvincedthatlawandpoliticscouldnotbeseparated,thefoundersof
CLSfoundayawningabsenceattheleveloftheory.Howcouldlawbesotiltedtofavor
thepowerful,giventheprevailingexplanationsoflawaseitherdemocraticallychosenor
theresultofimpartialjudicialreasoningfromneutralprinciples?Yethowcouldlawbea
toolforsocialchange,inthefaceofMarxistexplanationsoflawasmereepiphenomenal
outgrowthsoftheinterestsofthepowerful?

Hostingannualconferencesandworkshopsbetween1977and1992,CLSscholarsand
thosetheyhaveinfluencedtrytoexplainbothwhylegalprinciplesanddoctrinesdonot
yielddeterminateanswerstospecificdisputesandhowlegaldecisionsreflectcultural
andpoliticalvaluesthatshiftovertime.Theyfocusedfromthestartonthewaysthat
lawcontributedtoillegitimatesocialhierarchies,producingdominationofwomenbymen,
nonwhitesbywhites,andthepoorbythewealthy.Theyclaimthatapparentlyneutral
languageandinstitutions,operatedthroughlaw,maskrelationshipsofpowerandcontrol.
Theemphasisonindividualismwithinthelawsimilarlyhidespatternsofpower
relationshipswhilemakingitmoredifficulttosummonupasenseofcommunityand
humaninterconnection.Joiningintheirassaultonthesedimensionsoflaw,CLS
scholarshavedifferedconsiderablyintheirparticularmethodsandviews.

Manywhoidentifywiththecriticallegalstudiesmovementresistorrejecteffortsto
systematizetheirownwork.Theyseektoexpressclaimsoftextualambiguityand
historicalcontingencyintheirownmethods.Influencedbypostmodernistdevelopments
inculturalstudies,thesecriticalscholarspreferepisodicinterventionstosystematized
theories.Somecriticalscholarspresshardonaparticularlineofargument,andthen
shiftawayfromitinordertoavoidtreatingtheargumentitselfasakindoffetishor
talisman.

SomecriticalscholarsadaptideasdrawnfromMarxistandsocialisttheoriesto
demonstratehoweconomicpowerrelationshipsinfluencelegalpracticesand
consciousness.Forothers,theFrankfurtSchoolofCriticalTheoryanditsattentionto
theconstructionofculturalandpsychosocialmeaningsarecentraltoexplaininghowlaw
usesmechanismsofdenialandlegitimation.Stillothersfindresonancewith
postmodernistsensibilitiesanddeconstruction,notablyillustratedinliteraryand
architecturalworks.Somescholarsemphasizetheimportanceofnarrativesandstories
indevisingcriticalalternativestoprevailinglegalpractices.Manycriticallegalscholars
drawuponintellectualcurrentsinliterature,popculture,socialtheory,history,andother
fieldstochallengetheideaoftheindividualasastable,coherentself,capableof
universalreasonandguidedbygenerallawsofnature.Incontrast,arguecritical
scholars,individualsareconstitutedbycomplexandcompletingsourcesofideology,
socialpractice,andpowerrelationships.

Despitetheirvariety,CLSscholarscommonly:

1.seektodemonstratetheindeterminacyoflegaldoctrineandshowhowanygiven
setoflegalprinciplescanbeusedtoyieldcompetingorcontradictoryresults

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2.undertakehistorical,socioeconomicandpsychologicalanalysestoidentifyhow
particulargroupsandinstitutionsbenefitfromlegaldecisionsdespitethe
indeterminacyoflegaldoctrines
3.exposehowlegalanalysisandlegalculturemystifyoutsidersandworktomake
legalresultsseemlegitimateand
4.elucidateneworpreviouslydisfavoredsocialvisionsandarguefortheirrealization
inlegalandpoliticalpracticesinpartbymakingthempartoflegalstrategies.

Somecriticallegalscholarsturnedtoacritiqueofrightsastheirprimarysubject.

Indeterminacy
Legalprinciplesanddoctrinesaresaidtobeindeterminateintwoways.First,therulesin
forcecontainsubstantialgaps,conflicts,andambiguities.Criticaltheoristsarguethat
existinggaps,conflictsandambiguitiesarenotanomaliesorexceptionsbutarewidely
presenteveninsimplecases.Twodifferentrulesmaybeavailableforresolutionofa
particulardisputewithoutanyobviousreasontofavoroneovertheother.Forexample,
anownerwhowithdrawssubstantialwaterfromherlandtoselltoothers,andasa
result,underminesthesupportforthesurfaceoftheland,canclaimanabsoluterightto
withdrawthewaterfromherlandatthesametimethatherneighborscanclaimarightto
thesupportoftheirlandandprotectionagainstthenuisanceofunreasonablelanduse.
Whichoftheserulesshouldgovern?Howshould"reasonablelanduse"bedefined?
Thesearetypical,familiarproblemsintheopenquestionsposedbylegalanalysisof
disputes.

Legalindeterminacyalsoarisesbecauseofconflictsintheunderlyingnorms.Such
normsincludestabilityandpredictabilitybutalsofairnessandutility.Thefirstpairpoint
towardtheconsistentapplicationofpriordecisionswhilethesecondsetoftencounsel
againsttheapplicationofprecedentorthecreationofexceptions.Itisalmostalways
possibletofindsomedoctrinethataffords
authorityforthenormativevaluepromotedby
eachcompetingpartyinagivencase.Inthe
limitedsetofcaseswherenoobviously
relevantdoctrineexists,onecanalwaysargue
forachangeinthelaw,andfindavailablemany
conventionallegalargumentsinsupportofchange,suchasthecalltomodernize
outmodedcaselaw.

Criticaltheoristsdonottraceindeterminacytoanabsenceofstructure.Instead,they
arguethattheindeterminacyresultsfromspecifickindsofstructuresthatrunthroughout
law.Forexample,criticalscholarsidentifyasmall,easilystatedsetofargumentsand
counterargumentsareusedrepeatedlyinbriefsandjudicialopinions.Likeacarpenter
withalimitedsetoftoolsorasingerwithasmallrepertoireofsongs,thelawyerorjudge
usesandreusesargumentsaboutrightsandfairness,socialutilityandefficiency,ease
ordifficultyinadministeringagivenruleorstandard,andcompetenceandincompetence
oflegislativeandjudicialbodies.
Aplaintiffmayobjectthata
defendantsconductundermines
arighttosecurityandthereby
summonjudicialinvolvementto
guardagainstharm.The
defendantthenwouldcombinea
defensebasedonherrightto
freedomofactionwithan
argumentagainstjudicialinitiative
inanareaunaddressedbythe
legislatureorbeyondjudicial
capabilities.Thesestock
argumentscanbedisentangled
andreassembledinother
combinations,inothercases.The
abilityofcourtstoselectfrom

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amongpredictableargumentsandkeyargumentsisakeyfeatureoflaws
indeterminacy.

Todemonstratetheindeterminacyoflegaldoctrine,thecriticalscholaroftenadoptsa
method,suchasstructuralisminlinguisticsordeconstructioninliterarytheory,to
unearthadeepstructureofcategoriesandtensionsatworkbeneaththesurfacelayerof
legaltalk.Theaimistodevelopagrammarorguidetothoseunderlyingtensionsandto
thetechniquesbywhichtheyaremasked,expressed,anddeployed.Forexample,
DuncanKennedymaintainsthatvariouslegaldoctrinesrevolvearoundastructureof
binarypairsofopposedconcepts,eachofwhichhasaclaimuponintuitiveandformal
formsofreasoning.Selfandother,privateandpublic,subjectiveandobjective,freedom
andcontrolareexamplesofsuchpairs.Somecriticalscholarsdemonstratetheinfluence
ofopposingconceptsonthedevelopmentoflegaldoctrinesthroughhistory.Kennedy
himselfacknowledgesthatthepsychologicalandsocialdimensionsofthejudicialrole
givenevenacriticallyinspiredjudgeasenseofconstraint,andexperiencevividly
describedbysomesittingjudges.

Recentworkbycriticallegaltheoristsbringsthesemethodsandideastointernational
andcomparativelaw,toglobalmarketsandlaborrelationslaw,andtoidentityand
culturalpolitics. Anotherfocusofcriticaltheoristshaslongbeenlegaleducation
itself.Insteadofreplicatingexistingsocialpowerrelations,criticallegalclassrooms
Critsinsistcouldinsteadbeanarenaforpoliticalanalysisandstruggleinsteadof
perpetuatingthepretensesofreasonandlegitimacyinthelegalsystem,lawschool
classesshouldexposetheindeterminacyoflegaldoctrine.Lawstudentscanbetrained
simplytobetoolsoftheexistingsocialorderorinsteadbecomesocialcriticsand
activists.Criticaltheorists,concernedthatlawstudentswillsimplyinternalizethe
predictablepatternsoflegaldecisionmakingthatbenefitthosewhoalreadyhavepower
andprivilege,insteadseektoteachlawstudentstounbundleandreframelegal
argumentsonbehalfofthosewithlesspower.

LawsContributiontoGroupInequality(or"Tilt")
Despitetheindeterminacyoflegaldoctrine,criticaltheoristsarguethatactualjudgesand
legislaturesproducepredictableresults.Usinghistorical,socioeconomic,and
psychologicalanalyses,thescholarstrytounearththesepredictablepatternsandrelate
themtolargerpatternsofpowerandprivilege.Thus,MortonHorwitzarguedthat19th
centuryAmericancourtschangedlegalrulestospureconomiccompetitionandassist
themercantileelitessearchforpowerandwealth..JosephSingerrecountshow19th
and20thcenturycourtsremadepropertyrulestopermitownerstoexcludepeoplefrom
accesstocommercialandotherenterprisespreciselyassocialstrugglesforracial
inclusiongrew..Feministlegaltheoristsdocumenthowtraditionalprivacyprotectionsfor
familiespreservedpatternsofmaledominance,butlegalreformsperpetuatedthedeeper
structuresthatassignaltruismtothehomeandselfishcompetitivisminthemarketplace,
alldisguisedunderpicturesofnaturaldifferencesbetweenthepublicandprivate
spheres.AlanFreemanadvancedtheviewthatlawreformsaimedatracial
discriminationconsistentlyimplementedtheperspectiveofperpetratorsratherthanthe
perspectiveofvictims.

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MystificationandLegitimation
Howcanlawappearfairandobjectiveandnonethelesspredictablytendtoperpetuate
thepowerofthepowerful?Criticaltheoristssuggestthatpsychologicaldynamics,such
asdenialprovidesoneexplanation.MarkKelmanusedthepsychologicalconceptof
denialtoexplainlegaltreatmentofcriminallawthatignoreordisguiseinsolubleissuesof
intention,freewill,anddeterminism.Arelatedsourceistheeffectoflawsuseof
abstractionsthatremovelegalissuesintoarealmofconceptsremotefromthefactsand
patternsofactualpower.Thus,the"right"ofanemployertoremoveaworkerwho
speaksinawaythatbotherstheemployeristreatedasaninstanceofprivateproperty,
andtheabstractrightiscastinawaytoappealtoeveryonewhoalsowantspowerover
property. Perhapsmostimportantly,criticallegalscholarsdepartfromthelegal
realistswhoinspiredmanyofthembydenyingthatprogressivesocialchangecanbe
easilyengineeredthroughchangesinlegalrules.First,lawitselfhelpstoconstitute
peoplesconsciousness,entrenchingnotionslikethedividesbetweenpublicand
privateandmarketandgovernmentsodeeplyastomakeitseemnaturalandbeyond
discussionorchange.Lawitselfsuppliesmanyofthemethodsandrationalesthat
societyusestotreatracial,class,andgenderinequalitiesaslegitimateorinevitable.As
aresult,lawcannotbeitselfasimpletoolofprogressivechange.

NewVisions
Somecriticaltheoristsnonethelesselaborateconstructiveeffortstouselawinpursuitof
progressivepolitics.RobertoUngercallsfor"deviationistdoctrine,"whichcaninvolve
transferringargumentsandpracticesthatarefamiliarandacceptedinonecontexttoa
differentcontextwheretheycouldproducedramaticchange.Theideaof"workplace
democracy"isageneralexamplethewideappealofdemocraticnormsandpracticesin
politicsaretransferredtotheworkplaceinhopesofredistributingpower.Anotherformof
deviationistdoctrineamplifiescounterprinciplesorsubordinatedvaluesalreadypresentin
legaldoctrines,suchasthedimensionsofsolidarityandresponsibilityforothersthatare
presentincontractandpropertylawdoctrines,althoughusuallysubordinatedtothe
valuesofselfrelianceandcompetition. [6]

Inonework,Ungerproposedathreepointprogramofgovernmentalreformtakingthe
principlesofsocialandeconomicliberalismtotheirlogicalconclusionsthis"super
liberalism"wouldincludetheestablishmentofarotatingcapitalfund,makingcapital
temporarilyavailabletoteamsofworkersundergovernmentallysetconditions,andthe
creationofasystemofrightstosafeguard"individualsecuritywithoutimmunizinglarge
areasofsocialpracticeagainstthestrugglesofdemocracy."

Othercriticaltheoristsaremuchmorewaryoflarge,structuralproposalseitherfor
institutionalarrangementsorforformsoflegalargument.Theysuggestrelianceon
individualsethicalsensibilitiesandexistentialresponsibilitiesinordertoresistroles,
rulesandinstitutionalpracticesthatshieldoppressionandunfairnessfromchallenge.

Opposition
Opponentsarguethatcriticallegalapproachesintheclassroomandinlegal
scholarshipunderminerespectforlawanddedicationtolawsaspirationtobe
independentofpoliticsorirrationality.OwenFiss,forexample,warnsthatbothcritical
legalstudiesandeconomicapproachestolawriskkillinglawasanarenaforreasoned
debateaboutsocialideals.DanielFarberandSuzannaSherrytreatcriticallegalstudies
asasimplisticandfailedassaultonliberalprinciplesandEnlightenmentnotionsoftruth.
PaulCarringtongeneratedanintensedebateamonglegalacademicswhenhepublished
anarticlesuggestingthatcriticallegalscholarshavea"substantialethicalproblemas
teachersofprofessionallawstudents"becausetheircynicismcouldrobstudentsofthe
"couragetoactonsuchprofessionaljudgmentastheyhavehaveacquired"oreven
resultin"theskillsofcorruption:briberyandintimidation."

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SomecriticschargethatCLSworkhampersprogressivepoliticalmovementsby
challengingtheideaofthesubjectandhumanagency.OthersviewCLSworkas
unimportantorfailingbecauseofinadequatedevelopmentofspecificpolicies,strategies,
orconstructivedirection.CLSisfaultedforimplyingthatsimplychanginghowpeople
thinkaboutlawwillchangepowerrelationshipsorconstraintsonsocialchange,although
afairreadingindicatesthat"crits"simplytreatchangesinthoughtasanecessarybut
insufficientstepforsocialchange.FeministsandCriticalRaceTheoristsobjectthat
conventionalcriticallegalstudiesemploysacritiqueofrightsthatneglectstheconcrete
roleofrightstalkinthemobilizationofoppressedanddisadvantagedpeople.Robert
Gordonhasrespondedwithawarningthatevensuchmobilizationeffortsmustbedone
withanexperimentalairand"fullknowledgethattherearenodeeperlogicsofhistorical
necessitythatcanguaranteethatwhatwedonowwillbejustifiedlater."

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