International Law from Below: Development, Social Movements, and Third World Resistance

By B. Rajagopal | Go to book overview

8
Recoding resistance: social movements and
the challenge to international law

A focus on social movements with restructuring agendas itself incorporates
a political judgment on how drastic global reform can best be achieved at
this stage of history.1

Lawyers generally do not concern themselves with mass politics or popular resistance. By professional training, intellectual orientation, political and class alignment, and tradition, lawyers focus on institutions of various kinds, whether governmental or private. As such, they tend to ask different sets of questions about social change and the role of law in it. For instance, in domestic law, they examine the ‘contribution’ of courts to the civil rights movement in the US by studying landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education. Such ‘technical’ or ‘legal’ discussions result in distilling the contribution of the masses out of historical transformations, and they highlight only the role played by judges and lawyers. In this rather clinical reduction of facts, the ‘case’ becomes the historical event itself, so that legal history is reduced to a cataloguing of factually abstracted episodes that bear little relation to each other.

This tendency in western domestic law to ignore the contribution of the masses has been subjected to criticism from at least two directions in recent years. First, in the US, an assortment of critical race theorists, feminists, gay-lesbian-queer theorists, have subjected this decontextualized, technocratic-rational model of law and legal history to criticism on the grounds that it ignores the role that law plays in everyday life and empowerment and also the role played by ordinary people as agents of legal transformation. To them, the liberal legal model that has remained dominant in the US so far, is fatally flawed due to these, among other, blind spots and needs to be fundamentally rethought. Nevertheless, though some of these writings allude to social movements, much of this literature does not explicitly engage with social movement literature,

1 Falk (1987) 173.

-233-

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