Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Critical legal studies
Critical legal studies refers to a movement in legal thought that applied methods similar to those critical theory (the Frankfurt School) to law. The abbreviations "CLS" and "Crit" are sometimes used informally to refer to the movement and its adherents.
Although the informal origins of critical legal studies probably can be traced back into the 1960s, the movement crystalled in 1977 at the conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many CLS scholars entered law school in the 1960s and 70s, and they applied ideas inspired by Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and others to the study of law. The critical legal studies movement flourished in the United States in the 1980s, but its influence as a distinct, self-identified movement, began to fade in the early 1990s.
Although the critical legal studies movement (like most schools of thought) was not monolithic, several ideas were characterisic of many of its adherents. These include:
- The idea that law does not determine the outcome of legal disputes, a thesis that gave rise to the indeterminacy debate in legal theory.
- The idea that legal rules and institutions are tilted towards the preservation of entrenched interests with wealth and power and therefore biased against the poor and oppressed, especially the working class, women, and people of color.
- The idea that the structure of legal rules reflects fundamental oppositions between self and other or self-interest and altruism.
Prominent participants in the movement included Duncan Kennedy, Mark Tushnet, and Roberto Unger.
Many conservative and liberal scholars were highly critical of the critical legal studies movement. The idea that the law was utterly indeterminate was contested in a famous debate in the late 1980s. More conservative critics argued that the radical nature of the movement was inconsistent with the mission of professional legal education.
Many of the ideas associated with the critical legal studies movement continue to be influential in the legal academy. Moreover, associated schools of legal thought, especially feminist jurisprudence and critical race theory, continue to play a major role in legal scholarship.
- Indeterminacy debate in legal theory
- Critical theory
- Frankfurt School
- Duncan Kennedy
- Mark Tushnet
- Roberto Unger
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