Chapter 2: Critical legal realism in a nutshell
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‘Critical Legal Realism’ (CLR) refers to a major branch of the Critical Legal Studies movement in the United States (mid-1970s to mid-1990s). CLR pursued two theory projects in tandem: promoting the reception into US legal thought of modernist and postmodernist social and cultural theory, and recovering and extending techniques of legal criticism developed by the Legal Realists and their predecessors going back to sociological jurisprudence and the revolt against formalism at the turn of the twentieth century. This chapter outlines CLR’s main theoretical claims and approaches beginning with critical analytics and the salience of legal culture, proceeding to ideas about the legal construction of the social order, and concluding with transformative possibilities in legal work. Themes discussed include legal indeterminacy; the experience of legal ‘boundedness’; gaps, conflicts and ambiguities in legal discourses; the constitutive role of legal rules, practices and discourses; the distributive and ideological stakes of law; and the way in which interrogation of background legal rules may reveal transformative possibilities.

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