Research Handbook on Critical Legal Theory
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Research Handbook on Critical Legal Theory

Edited by Emilios Christodoulidis, Ruth Dukes and Marco Goldoni

Critical theory, characteristically linked with the politics of theoretical engagement, covers the manifold of the connections between theory and praxis. This thought-provoking Research Handbook captures the broad range of those connections as far as legal thought is concerned and retains an emphasis both on the politics of theory, and on the notion of theoretical engagement. The first part examines the question of definition and tracks the origins and development of critical legal theory along its European and North American trajectories. The second part looks at the thematic connections between the development of legal theory and other currents of critical thought such as; Feminism, Marxism, Critical Race Theory, varieties of post-modernism, as well as the various ‘turns’ (ethical, aesthetic, political) of critical legal theory. The third and final part explores particular fields of law, addressing the question how the field has been shaped by critical legal theory, or what critical approaches reveal about the field, with the clear focus on opportunities for social transformation.
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Chapter 25: Can transnational law be critical? Reflections on a contested idea, field and method

Peer Zumbansen


This chapter offers a few reflections on the state of transnational law and transnational legal theory at a time in which the jury still is out with regard to its verdict on whether transnational law should be considered a field, a concept or a (likely promarket, neoliberal) ideology. Casting doubts on TL either in terms of being a neatly demarcated and regularly adjudicated field of doctrinal law or as a conceptual elaboration which we would locate somewhere between private and public international law in the way outlined by Philip Jessup in the 1950s, the chapter sets out to take seriously the lingering and persistent claims which situate TL in the greater transformation of state-based, political governance of economic affairs and the continuing trend towards privatization and corporate ownership of formerly public regulatory prerogatives. Seen as part of a wholescale shift to private governance, forum shopping and the curtailing of state intervention, TL is today often squarely associated with an intensifying constellation of globalized markets in which the authority of regulatory agency has widely shifted to private actors. Acknowledging the weight of such assumptions, we need not only to reconsider law’s and legal theory’s receptivity to normative critique but also to trace more carefully the lines of these longstanding concerns about TL. In the first instance, TL seems to have forever been prompting negative reactions to what is believed to be its fundamentally neoliberal normative orientation. Often understood as a field of law embodying the neoliberal rollback of state-based, democratically generated legal institutions, rights and safeguards in favour of a ‘winner takes all’ system where law, along with other power-sustaining institutional frameworks, merely serves to empower a small fraction of society, TL appears to have got off to a bad start. But in response, rather than trying to ‘push back’ against TL with the goal of mobilizing an alternative legal framework, this chapter calls for a critical engagement with TL and for a critical resistance of TL’s neoliberal potentials. Through an engagement with these concerns and by proposing a reassessment of legal theory in the context of critical social and political theory, the chapter will test TL’s ability to provide a robust methodological framework for a critical legal theory in today’s global, neoliberal constellation.

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