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 that studies the relationship between lawyers, legal process, and social change—movement law offers a methodology to scholars across substantive areas of expertise to work alongside social movements. We argue that it is essential in this moment of crisis to cogenerate ideas alongside grassroots organizing that aims to transform our political, economic, and social landscape.
We identify four methodological moves in the work of a growing number of scholars organically developing methods for movement law. First, movement law scholars attend to modes of resistance by social movements and local organizing. Attending to resistance is in itself significant, for it meaningfully diversifies the voices and sources within legal scholarship. Second, movement law scholars work to understand the strategies, tactics, and experiments of resistance and contestation. By studying the range of these approaches—including but not limited to law-reform campaigns—movement law scholars engage with new pathways to and possibilities for justice. Third, movement law scholars shift their epistemes away from courts and siloed legal expertise and toward the stories, strategies, and histories of social movements. Taking social movement horizons as a starting point denaturalizes the status quo and allows more radical possibilities to emerge. 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 the grassroots displaces the legal scholar as an individual expert and centers collective processes of ideation and struggles for social change.
* Amna A. Akbar is an Associate Professor of Law, The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law. Sameer M. Ashar is a Clinical Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law. Jocelyn Simonson is a Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School.
For feedback on drafts, we are grateful to generous engagement from Muneer Ahmad, Kate Andrias, Swethaa Ballakrishnen, Evan Bernick, Sharon Brett, Devon Carbado, Angélica Cházaro, Amy Cohen, Scott Cummings, Deborah Dinner, Veena Dubal, Dan Farbman, Catherine Fisk, Megan Ming Francis, Luke Herrine, Amy Kapczynski, Rachel López, Jamelia Morgan, Mari Matsuda, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, K. Sabeel Rahman, Aziz Rana, Jonathan Simon, Kendall Thomas, India Thusi, Gerald Torres, Ntina Tzouvala, Danny Wilf-Townsend, Kate Weisburd, John Whitlow, Nathan Yaffe, and participants at the UC Irvine Socio-Legal Studies Workshop and the Yale Clinical Faculty Workshop. Special thanks to Bill Quigley for his engagement with us on movement pedagogies in legal education. Thank you also to the Law and Political Economy Project, especially Corinne Blalock, for inviting us to present as part of the series “Mapping the U.S. Political Economy,” and for creating space for the original blog posts that led to our embarking on writing this together. Sumouni Basu, Thomas Pope, Amruta Trivedi, and Rebecca Whedon provided excellent research assistance.