An Uneven and Combined Development Theory of Law: Initiation

Abstract

That various legal orders preside in any one jurisdiction has long been seen as evidence of legal pluralism; however, this approach lacks a systematic understanding of history in general, and as such, tells us little about the inner machinations of law’s relation to capitalist development in particular. What is needed instead is a dialectical materialist approach to legal development; for this reason, I tender an uneven and combined development (UCD) theory of law. Law flexes in concert with ever-changing social relations, or more plainly, law evolves in an uneven and combined manner. More than being mired in the contradictions that are the driving force of the UCD of capitalism, however, law also boasts its own set of contradictions that, if carefully accounted for, helps distinguish the historical evolution of capitalism as a social totality.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The debates regarding pluralism in general and legal pluralism in particular are voluminous. For brief assessments of the linkages between the pluralism debates from the early twentieth century and more recent discussions, I would direct readers to four of Fitzpatrick’s works (2001, p. 50; 1984, p. 117; 1983a, p. 46; 1983b, p. 161).

  2. 2.

    I borrow this distinction between the analytical and the descriptive from von Benda-Beckmann (1988, p. 898).

  3. 3.

    In an earlier essay, Fitzpatrick is tantalizing close to a UCD theory of law when he refers to ‘the forms and relations that result from the interaction of articulation of modes of production’ as ‘combined’ (1983b, p. 168).

  4. 4.

    With regard to Fitzpatrick’s scholarly output since ‘Law and Societies’ (1984), it is almost an understatement to describe it as prolific. Yet over the last three decades—despite the coincident scarcity of the word ‘dialectic’ and his dismissal of Marxism on the basis of its supposed ‘schema of stages’ (Fitzpatrick 1983b, p. 161)—there seems to be an ongoing commitment to a dialectical (though variably materialist) methodology across his works. Of course this claim warrants a more extensive analysis that is beyond the scope of the essay at hand, but I shall offer a preliminary glimpse of this continuity as it relates to the concept of totality. In an earlier work, Fitzpatrick offers a materialist critique of totality as an idealist construct, and proceeds to present Foucault as a champion of a materialist particularity against the undialectical ‘totalising explanation’ (1983a, p. 50). After establishing totality as one of the elements that constitutes the ‘[m]odern myth’ of law in The Mythology of Modern Law (1992, p. 43), the persistence of his dialectically-informed analytical framework is noteworthy as he dissects the linkages between mythic universality and the particularities of historical development. He makes sense of this relation by relying on quintessentially dialectical concepts: negation (1992, p. 65), integration (p. 125), reconciliation of ‘contradictory positions’ (p. 143), not to mention his account of progression as ‘developing in the negation of its origins’ and ‘always moving towards greater differentiation’ (p. 144). When Fitzpatrick revisits this theme of totality through a Freudian lens in Modernism and the Grounds of Law (2001), it is law that combines two irreconcilable positions: social totality and social particularity (2001, p. 52). Law ‘occup[ies] this area of apposition in-between’ totality and particularity (p. 54); later, he distills this relation to its dialectical essence: ‘[m]odernity, in sum, contains yet is exceeded by what it constituently negates’ (p. 63). While I recognize that the theoretical influences that animate Fitzpatrick’s writings of the last three decades have changed, it can be argued that the dialectical mode of thought present in his 1984 essay continued to hold some sway in his later works.

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Correspondence to Susan Dianne Brophy.

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The original version of this article was revised. The correct title is updated in the article.

An erratum to this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10978-017-9202-y.

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Brophy, S.D. An Uneven and Combined Development Theory of Law: Initiation. Law Critique 28, 167–191 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10978-017-9200-0

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Keywords

  • Capitalism
  • Dialectical materialism
  • Legal pluralism
  • Uneven and combined development