Legal Change

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Law and Society | Politics and Social Change


The "demos" in demosprudence is meant to refer to those people who are collectively mobilized to make change. Demosprudence is not "the community" at the micro level. Nor is it the "'polity" writ large whether it acts through representative decision-making or voting in referenda and initiatives. It is not the theory or practice of a riot or a lynch mob. Nor is it the study of elections, whether for representatives or referenda. It is the theory and philosophy of legal meaning making through popular mobilization that engages a "thick" form of participation by people who are pushing for change by resisting manifestations of either public or private power. Demosprudence is an effort to expand the analysis of the way social power circulates and finds its expression in law. Demosprudents examine the collective expression of resistance that tests the democratic content of the formal institutions of lawmaking studied by jurisprudents and legisprudents. Rather than solely relying on courts to protect "discrete and insular minorities," demosprudence forces us to focus on alternative forms of representing power, especially on alternative democratic expressions of power. You might think about this by asking a question: if we value democratic legitimacy, how do we know when democracy is working? We look for the answers in the people themselves when organized as dynamic constituencies and not as isolated individual preference holders. We are not talking about alternative accumulations of preferences (poll taking, a mob, or a referendum). We are talking about the lawmaking and democracy-expanding potential of social movements.


This article predates the author's affiliation with Cornell Law School.

Publication Citation

Published in: Cleveland State Law Review, vol. 55, no. 2 (2007).