Transcending the Debate on Legal Narrative


Use of the narrative form in law and legal analysis remains controversial. Advocates such as Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, and Kathryn Abrams have argued that narrative in law can elicit particular perspectives and experiences that are reduced or bleached away when incorporated into the formalisms of pure doctrinal studies. By contrast, critics such as Daniel Farber and Suzanna Sherry maintain that narratives can distort if they are not sufficiently based on empirical fact or reason. Narratives, they claim, must be evaluated on the basis of objective standards.

The Article transcends this divide. In particular, it argues that the valuable functions of legal narrative in law and legal scholarship become visible when their literary character is examined. The Article undertakes this analysis by a close study of the narratives of Derrick Bell. The Article maintains that Bell's narratives should be read as parables. Parables function literarily by a process of disorientation that at once upsets traditional norms and opens the way for reorientation to occur.

The Article therefore defends the deployment of legal narrative and concludes that its critics are guilty of a category mistake. They too frequently analyze legal narratives on the basis of traditional norms, when the very function of narrative is to manifest new norms and new understandings.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law | Jurisprudence

Date of this Version

April 2005

This document is currently not available here.