Austin D. Sarat


Paul Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law: Reconstructing Legal Scholarship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Pp. 169. $27.50.

If, as the saying goes, all politics is local, then perhaps all (or if not all then much) scholarship is disciplinary, written to imagined audiences cabined by their differing departmental affiliations. Political scientists write mostly to and for other political scientists, anthropologists to and for other anthropologists, psychologists to and for other psychologists, law professors to and for other law professors. Seen from the inside of any one of these disciplines, a particular book may appear powerful, profound, even paradigm shifting. Seen from the outside, from the terrain of another discipline, that same book may seem to be a bit less original, less striking.

Paul Kahn's The Cultural Study of Law: Reconstructing Legal Scholarship is, for me, just such a book. From the perspective of legal education in professional schools, this will be a controversial and truly important book, laying out a program for a new academic discipline freed from the constraining vision and needs of legal practice. Calling for the "reconstruction" of legal scholarship, pointing the way for "cultural" analysis of what he sometimes labels the "rule of law" and at other times simply "law's rule, Kahn quite rightly asks: "Would a legal scholar who purports to suspend belief in law's rule - even as a program of reform - be welcome in the nation's law schools?" Advocating the development of a discipline in which law could take its rightful place alongside philosophy, economics, or politics as a pillar of scholarly inquiry, he observes that "[l]egal scholars are not studying law, they are doing it."