Webinar on Critical Theory, Law, and Contemporary Struggles

Thursday, October 8, 2020

How do critical theory and the critique of capital relate to ongoing struggles against caging, surveillance, and state violence today? I’ll be speaking about these topics with attorneys Rebecca Chapman and Cooper Brinson in a webinar hosted by the Civil Liberties Defense Center today, October 8 at 6:00 PM EDT / 3:00 PM PDT. It will run for two hours, ending with a Zoom-mediated Q&A session.

I’ve compiled a list of links that may be helpful to those who are interested in these questions and want to get their bearings. I’ve cast a wide net; I’m less interested in advocating for a particular view than I am in providing a glimpse of the breadth and diversity of critical theory as it relates to law, courts, and prisons—and the struggles in and against them.

One good place to start would be the Resources page at Legal Form. It’s pretty extensive; if you want a more narrowly-focused introduction, try the following:

You can find a thematically-arranged overview of the posts at Legal Form here.

If time permits, I plan to talk about one way of categorizing different critical approaches to law and the state—specifically, (1) class power; (2) struggle (2); and (3) mediation. I co-wrote a short essay on this scheme for Legal Form, which you can read for further exploration of those distinctions. Categorizations are always imperfect, of course; and they often impose a sense of tidiness and orderliness that isn’t really there. Still, I think it’s a useful way to initially approach a very big and contradictory world of texts, traditions, and debates.

Theory and History

I also recommend the following background readings:

  • Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (1981)

    • An all-around classic; I’ve included it here because, among other things, it vividly illustrates how liberal and legalistic conceptions of rights and justice can crowd out and inhibit collective struggles for liberation, dignity, and lasting material gains.
  • Michel Foucault, “The Mesh of Power” (1976)

    • An essay that deserves to be read more widely—one that puts the lie to simplistic interpretations of Foucault as non- or antimarxist. There are so many different ways to enter Foucault’s work; I like this essay because it covers a lot of ground but is still relatively self-contained.
  • Tony Smith, Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism: Marx and Normative Social Theory in the Twenty-First Century (2017)

    • There are many guides and introductions to Marx and Marx’s critique of capitalism. Smith’s is an excellent place to start if you are familiar with contemporary liberal and progressive theories of inequality and political justice (Rawls, Habermas, etc.). It also contains a rigorous—but brief and accessible—overview of Marx’s critique of capitalism and what makes it distinctive.
    • More introductions to Marx:

Law and Courts

For background on law and courts more generally, see:

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Against the Base/Superstructure Metaphor