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Critical Legal Studies


This is a guide to critical legal studies research in the Harvard Law School Library.  It begins with an overview of using the Harvard Library's HOLLIS library catalog for research, and then provides an overview to the history of critical legal studies as a scholarly discipline.  This is followed by sections that explore selected resources in each of these areas:

  • Critical Race Theory (CRT)
  • Latina/o/x Critical Theory (LatCrit)
  • Asian Critical Theory (AsianCrit)
  • Critical Indigenous Studies
  • Critical Whiteness Studies
  • Feminist Legal Theory
  • Queer Legal Theory
  • Critical Disability Theory
  • Critical Studies of Religious Identity and Religious Diversity
  • Intersectionality
  • Critical Discourse Analysis

Many other academic disciplines have "critical studies" scholars and literature, especially in the social sciences. Accordingly, this guide also includes references to selected materials outside the scope of law.

If you are a Harvard Law School affiliate and need assistance with legal research, please email

Bias, Neutrality, and "Othering" in Libraries and Library Collections

Searching for library materials in the research areas discussed in this guide may require using language that is "othering" and/or offensive to people of certain backgrounds, identities, and identifications.

It is a common misconception that libraries and library catalogs are neutral and unbiased.  They are not.  The following works in the critical librarianship literature provide further information on this point:

Although progress has been made in this area by libraries in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done.

In writing this guide, my goal is provide information you need to navigate the Harvard Library collections and find materials for critical legal studies research projects.  While I tried to do this as thoroughly and objectively as possible, I recognize that (a) some people may consider certain language and concepts included in this guide to be objectionable or offensive, and (b) my work on this guide cannot help but be shaped by my own identity and biases. 

Because developing this guide is an exercise in growth and learning for me, I welcome and encourage respectful and constructive feedback.  Please contact me using the information at the top of the screen with questions or comments. 

Using the Harvard Library Catalog, HOLLIS

The Harvard Library online catalog HOLLIS ( includes records for millions of books and other materials in all the Harvard libraries.  It also includes index entries for periodical articles. 

An effective way to search in HOLLIS is by subject.  Many subject keywords come from controlled vocabularies like the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) list, which requires a library cataloger to use a specific word or phrase to indicate that an item is about a certain subject. This helps increase the efficiency of the search process and the relevance of search results.  However, some highly relevant terms of art are not part of a controlled subject vocabulary like the LCSH list.  For those terms, a general keyword search is better.

Links to pre-populated subject and general keyword HOLLIS searches are included in this guide under each topic. A link to a pre-populated HOLLIS search in this guide looks like this:


Click the link to run the indicated search.  As you will see, these searches are meant to be very broad, and many of them have thousands of results. To limit the results list, edit the HOLLIS search by adding additional keywords, and/or use the limiting options on the right side of the HOLLIS search results screen.

The guide also includes links to HOLLIS searches by book series because scholarly publishers often publish like-themed books under a descriptive series name.  Book series searches in this guide look like this (where "Routledge" is the name of the publisher):


A HOLLIS user guide, created and maintained by the Harvard Library, is available at

Critical Legal Studies: Definition and History

Critical Theory Generally

The idea behind critical theory is to challenge the status quo through intellectual analysis.  Applying critical theory to an academic discipline involves thinking about how to deal with new problems and explore emerging possibilities that "arise from changing historical circumstances."  Critical theorists are concerned by the disinclination for deep and ethical thinking in current society, and decry a lack of  "meaning and purpose" in modern life.  Through their work, critical theorists address societal power imbalances, whether in the economy, in the government, or in law, as a way of reducing oppression and fostering resistance to forces that inhibit freedom for everyone.

(Source: Stephen Eric Bronner, Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction (2017 2nd ed.))

Critical Legal Studies in Particular

What does it mean to refer to legal studies as "critical"?  A leading critical legal studies scholar, Professor Lolita Buckner Inniss, provides the following characterization:

"'Critical' in this sense refers to closely inquiring into the nature of a thing or idea, not necessarily to alter it or to undermine it, but rather to problematize it, that is, to expose vital questions and problems about a thing or concept."

According to Professor Buckner Inniss, "critical" studies feature the following characteristics:

  • A problem-solving methodology that is "interdisciplinary, intersectional, (and) spectral"; 
  • The non-adoption of "claims of universal validity" except in cases where such adoption is "only to achieve a greater good for the many or to undermine structures of oppression"; and
  • The rejection of "false dichotomies" and the recognition that, among multiple alternatives, there may be many "valid choices."

(Source: Lolita Buckner Inniss, "Other Spaces" in Legal Pedagogy, 28 Harv. J. Racial & Ethnic Just. 67, 68 (2012)).

The history of how critical legal studies developed as a scholarly concept and discipline is discussed in several books and journal articles, Including those listed below.

History of Critical Legal Studies: Selected Books

History of Critical Legal Studies: Selected Journal Articles

In 1982, a Critical Legal Studies symposium was held at Stanford Law School, and the related symposium issue of the Stanford Law Review includes many articles that are cited repeatedly in the legal literature as fundamental works of the movement. Link to the symposium issue: Critical Legal Studies Symposium of 1982, Stanford Law Review, v. 36 (1984).

Critical Race Theory

in 1995, Professor Derrick Bell, the first tenured African-American faculty member at Harvard Law School, defined critical race theory as "a body of legal scholarship, the majority of whose authors are both existentially people of color and ideologically committed to the struggle against racism, particularly as institutionalized in and by law."  According to Professor Bell, there are also white critical race theory scholars, and they are "usually committed to the overthrow of their own racial privilege."

(Source: Derrick A. Bell, Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory, 1995 U. Ill. L. Rev. 893, 898.)

Professor Bell's work laid the foundation for the scholarly discipline of critical race theory.  His career spanned more than 50 years, during which he worked as a lawyer for the NAACP and also served as a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law and at NYU School of Law.  He passed away in 2011.

Note: In 2019, HLS Professor Randall Kennedy wrote a very interesting article about his relationship with Professor Bell, which includes a discussion of their differing views on critical race theory and African Americans in legal academia.  This article can be downloaded at

Critical Race Theory: HOLLIS Searches

Critical Race Theory: Selected Books

Critical Race Theory: Selected Periodicals and Series

Latina/o/x Critical Theory (LatCrit)

According to Professor Francisco Valdes (University of Miami School of Law), Latina/o/x Critical Theory (LatCrit) explores the "(p)ractices and the (p)ossibilities that (are) associate(d) with Latinas/os and critical legal scholarship on race, ethnicity, and other sources of subordination in American law and society." 

The group itself, according to Professor Valdes, "a conglomeration of several peoples from varied cultures and localities(.) ... These group experiences include, but are not exclusively about, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban-American communities ... (representing) diverse spectrums of races, religions, genders, classes, and sexualities."

(Source: Francisco Valdes, Latina/o Ethnicities, Critical Race Theory, and Post-Identity Politics in Postmodern Legal Culture: From Practices to Possibilites: Forward, 9 La Raza L.J. 1, 8, 11 (1996) (Colloquium Proceedings).)

LatCrit: HOLLIS Searches

LatCrit: Selected Books

LatCrit: Selected Periodicals and Series

Asian Critical Theory (AsianCrit)

Asian critical theory as a legal academic discipline was developed to address the particular challenges related to discrimination against and marginalization of Asian Americans. 

According to Professor Robert S. Chang, who wrote the first article ever published in the Asian Law Journal (which would eventually be renamed the Asian American Law Journal), "Asian Americans suffer from discrimination, much of which is quantitatively and qualitatively different from that suffered by other disempowered groups."  Accordingly, critical race theory, because it does not demonstrate "how different races matter differently," is not an altogether appropriate discipline to "address fully the needs of Asian Americans."  According to Professor Chang, while Asian Americans are often viewed in American society as "the model minority," the discrimination and violence that they experience have created a unique narrative that deserves its own space and research discipline.

(Source: Robert S. Chang, Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space, 1 Asian L. J. 1 (1994).)

AsianCrit: HOLLIS Searches

AsianCrit: Selected Books

AsianCrit: Selected Periodicals and Book Series

Critical Indigenous Studies

Critical indigenous studies explores how indigenous people are situated within national power structures in a post-colonial context.  A related discipline, critical indigenous rights studies, has also emerged, which is primarily examines how rights and freedoms for indigenous people are impacted by larger questions related to autonomy and human dignity.  Scholars in both of these fields critically question the framing and control of indigenous culture and heritage, and how these actions create a framework of social and legal hegemony that oppresses indigenous people and communities.

Critical Indigenous Studies: HOLLIS Searches

Critical Indigenous Studies: Selected Books

Critical Indigenous Studies: Selected Periodicals and Series

Critical Whiteness Studies

Professor Barbara J. Flagg, in the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 2013 symposium issue, Whiteness: Some Critical Perspectives, summed up as follows why critical whiteness studies, as a scholarly discipline, are necessary:

"Whiteness is a social location of power, privilege, and prestige.  It is 'an invisible package of unearned assets.' As an epistemological stance, it is sometimes an exercise in denial.  Whiteness is an identity, a culture, and an often colonizing way of life that is largely invisible to Whites, though rarely to people of color.  Whiteness also carries the authority within the larger culture it dominates to set the terms on which every aspect of race is discussed and understood."

She goes on to call whiteness a "metaprivilege," which she defines as "the ability of Whiteness to define the conceptual terrain on which race is constructed, deployed, and interrogated."  In the United States in particular, she argues, "Whiteness is a largely transparent construction that constitutes the dominant site of power and privilege."

(Source: Barbara J. Flagg, Whiteness as Metaprivilege, 18 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 1 (2005)).

Critical Whiteness Studies: HOLLIS Searches

Critical Whiteness Studies: Selected Books

Feminist Legal Theory

Martha Albertson Fineman, the founder of a scholarly project called Feminism and Legal Theory (FLT) in 1984, states that, "as a group, feminists are concerned with the implications of historic and contemporary exploitation of women within society."  To that end, two of their primary goals are "the empowerment of women and the transformation of institutions dominated by men." 

According to Professor Fineman, feminist legal theory has historically consisted of multiple ideological approaches.  Whereas some scholars believe that law should better reflect and accommodate differences between men and women, whether they are created by biology or society, other scholars focus more on the goal of greater "equality and gender neutrality" in the law.  

Feminist legal scholars are also interested in which Professor Fineman calls the "public/private divide in law." As Professor Fineman notes, "most are at least skeptical about privatization as a route of first resort for serious social policy issues," primarily because the concepts of public and private "interact as ideological channels for the allocation of societal resources, including the resources of power and authority."

(Source: Martha Albertson Fineman, Feminist Legal Theory, 13 Am. U. J. Gender Soc. Pol'y & L. 13 (2005)).

A Note on the Concepts of Sex and Gender

The scholarly discourse on the concepts of "sex" and "gender" is very extensive, and a discussion of them that does justice to their complexity is well beyond the scope of this guide.  That said, it is generally understood that "sex" represents biological differences between men and women, whereas "gender" represents "the behavioral, cultural, psychological, and social characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity."

(Source: Definition of "Gender" in A Dictionary of Critical Theory, 2010.)

Historically, these two concepts have sometimes been referred to interchangeably. 

It is important to be mindful of sex and gender as biological and socio-cultural phenomena when engaging in critical feminist studies research.  Accordingly, researchers may want to consider the following reference works, which seek to define and clarify these concepts:

Sex, Gender, and the Organization of this Guide

If you are doing research on critical gender studies, you may find relevant resources in several places in this guide in addition to this one, including under Queer Legal Theory and Intersectionality (both below). Because the literature on gender has evolved over the years, it can be challenging to decide under which heading certain resources should be located.

Feminist Legal Theory: HOLLIS Searches

Feminist Legal Theory: Selected Books

Feminist Legal Theory: Selected Periodicals and Series

Queer Legal Theory

The New Oxford Companion to Law defines the term "queer" as follows:

‘Queer’ is a contested term often used to describe people who do not identify as heterosexual and monogamous, including lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and those who practice polyamory. ‘Queer’ sexuality is often opposed to ‘straight’ sexuality. While it was once a term of abuse and was considered highly offensive, ‘queer’ was reclaimed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by activist groups such as Queer Nation and ACT UP. These groups brought together different sexual minorities and adopted deliberately provocative tactics in an effort to disrupt sexual ‘normality’ in politics and cultural life. The term ‘queer’ is now used in a positive way, but is still regarded as offensive when used derisively.
In the more theoretical context ‘queer’ refers to practices or ideas which challenge or deliberately transgress fixed gender identities or sexualities. Queer theory combines postmodernism's anti‐universalist thinking with gay and lesbian studies. It is based on the insight that ‘normal’ identity types are the product of social and political influences, and are not natural or universal categories.
In legal thought, queer theory has been used to challenge some of the accepted categories of law, such as relationships, the family, and property. It has also been used to highlight and subvert law's institutional power to create social concepts of normal and marginal sexuality.


It is with this definition in mind that the sources below were compiled.

Queer Legal Theory: HOLLIS Searches

Queer Legal Theory: Selected Books

Queer Legal Theory: Selected Periodicals and Series

Critical Disability Studies

According to British critical disabilities scholar Dan Goodley, this discipline has evolved from "establishing the factors that led to the structural, economic and cultural exclusion of people with sensory, physical, and cognitive impairments" in its earlier history, to its more modern focus on "developing nuanced theoretical responses to these factors." 

Goodley's description of the history of critical disability studies as a scholarly discipline cites several other areas as having contributed its emergence, including Marxism (which enabled "a modernist response to the socio-economic exclusion of disabled people from everyday life"), sociology (which offered a new lens through which to explore disability as a social phenomenon), and intersectionality, especially through "the merging of queer and disability studies."  An important intersectionality-related result, according to Goodley, was the development of the concept of "crips," which is a way for disabled individual queers to self-identify that has emerged. 

(Source: Dan Goodley, Dis/Entangling Critical Disability Studies, Disabilty & Society, 28:5, 631-644, DOI:

Critical Disability Studies: HOLLIS Searches

Critical Disability Studies: Selected Books

Critical Disability Studies: Selected Periodicals and Series

Critical Studies of Religious Identity and Religious Diversity

Intersectionality in Critical Legal Studies

In scholarly literature, the term "intersectionality" is used in the analysis of issues related to identifying with more than one minority group.  This phrase was first coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a law professor and HLS alumna, in a 1989 University of Chicago Legal Forum article, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrone, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Policies.

The suggested resources and HOLLIS searches listed below cover topics that may or do impact members of multiple demographic/identity groups that are analyzed in the critical legal studies literature.

For more information about intersectionality in general, the Oxford Research Encyclopedias online database includes several articles that discuss it, an excellent example of which is Intersectional Stereotyping in Political Decision Making, by Erin C. Cassese.

Intersectionality in Critical Legal Studies: HOLLIS Searches

Note that certain language used in these searches may be considered to be particularly offensive, especially the use of the term "illegal aliens." In 2016, the Library of Congress announced its intention to stop using this language in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.  This decision was made in response to feedback from Melissa Padilla, a student at Dartmouth College who noticed the phrase come up repeatedly in the library catalog while researching a paper on immigration.  The Republican-controlled Congress, however, included a provision in the 2017 appropriations bill that prevented the Library of Congress from making this change.  Therefore, the term "illegal aliens" is still in use. 

Intersectionality in Critical Legal Studies: Selected Books

Intersectionality in Critical Legal Studies: Selected Periodicals and Series

Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical discourse analysis, which is also called "critical linguistics," is an area of social science research that is concerned with the social use of language, or "sociolinguistics."  Specifically, it involves analysis of what is known in linguistics as "discourse," which represents the culturally-influenced use of language and non-verbal elements by people to communicate.

Critical discourse analysis can take place in many different contexts, including "intertextuality, interdiscursivity, social semiotics, and the social, political, and historical context of language in use[.]"  Approaches to critical discourse analysis may "criticize various forms of discursively constituted power abuse and hegemonic social structures that lead to injustice and social discrimination," and be "concerned with making transparent opaque, contradictory, power-related, manipulative relationships among language and society or social structures."

(Source: Martin Reisigl, Critical Discourse Analysis, in The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics, 2013.)

Because the use of language is a significant element of the study and practice of law, critical legal studies researchers may want to also consider the critical discourse analysis literature.  Below are some HOLLIS library catalog searches that can be helpful in finding these materials in the Harvard Library collections.

Critical Discourse Analysis: Other Resources

Additional Suggested Reading: An Antiracist Reading List by Ibram X. Kendi

On May 29, 2019, Professor Ibram X. Kendi of American University published An Antiracist Reading List in the New York Times. 

Links to the HOLLIS records for each of the titles in this list are provided below.