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Psychology and the Law: The Critical Agenda for Citizen Justice and Radical Social Change

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 20 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2003 Pages: 399-444
Bruce A. Arrigo
Date Published
June 2003
46 pages
Based on several insights developed within critical theory and appropriated by scholars of radical law-psychology, this article describes four cutting-edge approaches to contemporary psycholegal inquiry: political economy, feminist jurisprudence, anarchism, and postmodernism.
The political-economy perspective is based in the philosophy of Karl Marx and neo-Marxian revisionists (Althusser, 1971; Pashukanis, 1978). The political-economy perspective focuses on how class position indicates the amount of monetary and material power an individual or group possesses. It follows that those who exercise political and economic power in the mental health and justice systems establish the form, frequency, and duration of citizen justice and social well-being that are found within the psycholegal domain. Feminist jurisprudence exposes the accepted ideology that is embedded within the construction of law. Pivotal to this critical analysis is the conviction that conventional and progressive legal theories inadequately account for the lived experiences of women. This article discusses how feminist jurisprudence affects sociolegal inquiry in the areas of identity and its critique, knowledge and its critique, and the legal method and its critique. The perspective of anarchism that has generated the most attention and controversy is the mutual-aid strain of criticism developed by Kropotkin. This orientation is provocative because of its attacks on the state and its apparatus of legal control. Anarchism's focus on mutual agreement as the means of structuring communal life substantially displaces society's reliance on manufactured law and legal decisionmaking, reorienting the frame of reference concerning the human condition and interpersonal conduct. Anarchists value fluid and evolving social relations in which identities are never finished products but always projects under construction within a broader process of inventing and reinventing ourselves and others. It opposes systems that are based on coerced, mandated, or otherwise artificially induced compliance. Postmodernism can be traced to political and intellectual developments in France during the 1960's. As it pertains to the law, postmodernism represents a considerable assault on the construction, imagery, and logic of conventional juridical reasoning. Postmodern legal scholars emphasize how the ideology embedded in the law is a function of language, conveying a multitude of hidden assumptions and implicit values that produce violence in speech and thought and harm in social consequence. The violence and harm perpetrated by language occurs primarily when only certain meanings, consistent with the values of the discourse in use, are unconsciously "selected out" and are esteemed as truth, knowledge, or fact, dismissing in the process an array of various interpretations and the discourse used to talk about them, because these alternative coordinates of meaning are not compatible with the prevailing ideology. The concluding section of this article discusses the implications of the four positions for adopting a critically informed psychology-and-law agenda. 215 references


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