Critical Race Realism: Towards an Integrative Model of Critical Race Theory, Empirical Social Science, and Public Policy


Critical Race Theory was founded as “a race-based, systematic critique of legal reasoning and legal institutions….” Critics argue that it struggles to define its substantive mission, methodological commitments, and connection to the world outside of academia. This article attempts to provide a specific methodology—empirical social science—that is consistent with Critical Race Theory’s overarching mission and that has both applied and academic components. This methodology should ultimately 1) expose racism where it may be found, 2) identify its effects on individuals and institutions, and 3) put forth a concerted attack against it, in part, via public policy arguments. This concept, Critical Race Realism, is drawn from a long and rich intellectual history. I explore this history as it started with the growth of interdisciplinarity in American legal education and traversed its way through intellectual movements at Columbia, Yale, Chicago, and Wisconsin law schools. I then look at the recent explosion in empirical legal scholarship and the New Legal Realism Project as contemporary efforts with which Critical Race Realism must square itself. I then systematically explore the growth of social science, race, and law scholarship as well as race and empirical legal scholarship over the past twenty years. I close by reconciling Critical Race Theory with this intellectual history and these contemporary movements and suggest ways in which Critical Race Realism might be developed.


Civil Rights and Discrimination

Date of this Version

November 2006