Legal Mobilization and Authoritarianism – Annual Review of Law and Social Science – article

Legal Mobilization and Authoritarianism

Lynette J. Chua | Annual Review of Law and Social Science


Studies about authoritarianism build the foundation of legal mobilization scholarship and continue to advance this area of sociolegal research. The contributions of these studies become apparent when we view authoritarianism as a phenomenon found in all societies. Authoritarian regimes exist as nation states and as enclaves, such as subnational territories, institutions, and social spaces. Scholars who examine whether and how people use the law in diverse authoritarian settings bring out the malleable, situational, and plural nature of legal power. Law, in collaboration or complicity with other sources of power, can impede legal mobilization. Nevertheless, individuals and groups can use the law to challenge authoritarianism by carrying out formal, quasi-formal, or nonformal legal actions, an array of strategies and tactics that encompass more than courtroom litigation. Overall, the outcomes of legal mobilization under authoritarianism are mixed and paradoxical. Sometimes law can benefit disadvantaged populations living under authoritarianism. However, law is also criticized for being ineffective, even harmful. Examined in light of the notion that authoritarianism is all over, legal mobilization research offers keen reflections on the study of legal power.


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