Movement Law


In this Article we make the case for “movement law,” an approach to legal scholarship grounded in solidarity, accountability, and engagement with grassroots organizing and left social movements. In contrast to law and social movements—a field of study that unpacks the relationship between lawyers, legal process, and social change—movement law is a methodology for scholars across substantive areas of expertise to draw on and work alongside social movements. We identify seeds for this method in the work of a growing number of scholars that are organically developing methods for movement law. We make the case that it is essential in this moment of crisis to cogenerate ideas alongside grassroots organizing that aims to transform our political, economic, social landscape.

In articulating movement law as a methodology for undertaking and shifting the scholarly enterprise, we identify four methodological moves. First, movement law scholars pay close attention to modes of resistance by social movements and local organizing. Paying attention to resistance is in itself significant, for it meaningfully diversifies the voices and sources relevant to legal scholarship. Second, movement law scholars work to understand the strategies, tactics, and experiments of resistance and contestation. By studying the range of strategies, tactics, and experiments—including but not limited to traditional law reform campaigns—movement law scholars engage new pathways to and possibilities for justice. Third, movement law scholars shift their epistemes, away from courts and silos of legal expertise, and toward the stories, strategies, and histories of left social movements. Adopting the episteme of social movement horizons denaturalizes the status quo and allows more radical possibilities to emerge—beyond the status quo, and toward political, economic, social transformation. Fourth, movement law scholars embody an ethos of solidarity, collectivity, and accountability with left social movements, rather than a hierarchical or oppositional relationship. Writing in solidarity with social movements displaces the legal scholar as an individual expert and centers collective processes of ideation and struggles for social change.