What is Left of the Law and Society Paradigm after Critique? Revisiting Gordon's “Critical Legal Histories”


Christopher Tomlins is Chancellor's Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine. Thanks are due to Dirk Hartog for helpful comments, and to Bob Gordon for many years of friendship. Please direct correspondence to ctomlins@law.uci.edu.


For more than twenty-five years, Robert Gordon's “Critical Legal Histories” has been savored by legal historians as one of the most incisive explanations available of what legal history can and should be. Gordon's essay, however, is of significance to the course of sociolegal studies in general. This commentary offers an appreciation, and a critique, of “Critical Legal Histories.” It explores Gordon's articulation of the central themes of critical legal studies, in particular his corrosion of functionalism and embrace of the indeterminacy thesis, and assesses the consequences for sociolegal and legal-historical analysis of the resultant stress on the contingency and complexity of social life.