Document Type



Presented at the Pragmatism, Law and Governmentality conference held at Cornell Law School on March 28, 2003.


For anyone interested in documenting and analyzing knowledge practices, legal arenas prove to be fruitful sites, for at least two reasons. 1) First, questions of evidence and of authority are often explicitly contested, with the contestations often forming part of a court’s public record and/or going on in the public setting of the courtroom. Thus, unlike science studies scholars, who must gain access to social interactions that are not mentioned in scientific papers and that do not take place in public view, legal studies scholars have vast amounts of material – affidavits, trial transcripts, etc– that can readily be analyzed, and we have automatic access to at least some of the struggles about what counts as evidence and who counts as an authority waged in legal settings.

Secondly, legal arenas, particularly in common-law jurisdictions, are characterized by the simultaneous coexistence of radically heterogeneous and uncoordinated epistemologies. That civil lawsuits are adjudicated using a different standard of proof than criminal cases is known to most people, and certainly to every law student. But it is less well known that this is only one of a large number of epistemological heterogeneities that can be documented even staying in a single courtroom or confining oneself to one type of case. Those of us who are beginning to borrow and adapt some tools from Science and Technology Studies for use in analyzing legal processes may be able to return the favour by highlighting the jurisdictional and other devices that allow ‘law’ to retain its legitimacy despite the fact that conflicting modes of reasoning and very different standards of proof coexist happily, in a state that a scientific mind would describe as epistemological anarchy. This is not to say that other fields are necessarily unified or somehow coordinated; but it is my suspicion that legal arenas exhibit a particularly cavalier stance toward existing epistemological heterogeneity.

Date of Authorship for this Version

March 2003

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Jurisprudence Commons