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Under the Law: Legal Consciousness and Radical Environmental Activism


  • This article is a product of my dissertation work, and I would like to thank my dissertation committee Kitty Calavita (chair), Susan Coutin, and Valerie Jenness, along with the UCI Institutional Review Board (HS#:2004−3905). Moreover, I am grateful to “Alonso” and the subjects who participated in the study, and A. Rafik Mohamed for a decade of mentoring.

Erik D. Fritsvold is an assistant professor in the crime, justice, law and society concentration in the Department of Sociology at the University of San Diego. He can be reached at


A growing body of sociolegal scholarship focuses the study of law away from formal texts and legal institutions and toward the experiences and perceptions of “everyday” citizens. This study introduces seventeen “radical” environmentalists who engage a repertoire of tactics that includes some actions that involve relatively severe forms of illegality. This research seeks to investigate the role of civil disobedience and lawbreaking within the radical environmental movement and the corresponding legal consciousness of movement actors. Utilizing ethnographic fieldwork and content analysis, this analysis suggests that Ewick and Silbey's (1998) three-tiered model of legal consciousness is an operative starting point, but could be enhanced through theoretical expansion. This study proposes a new category of legal consciousness—Under the Law—that views the law as the protector and defender of a social order that is fundamentally illegitimate. Under the Law is qualitatively different from existing conceptualizations of legal consciousness and reaffirms the mutually constitutive nature of law and society.