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The Persistence of Formalism: Towards a Situated Critique beyond the Classic Separation of Powers


  • Rodriguez Jose R.

    (CEBRAP/SP and Direito GV)


Formalism persists everywhere despite 100 years of critical legal theory. The reasons for that are sociological and political and include the persistence of the separation of powers idea as a central concept for the theory of law. In Brazil, this phenomenon manifests itself acutely for two supplementary reasons: (1) the lack of a real differentiation between academic research and professional lawyering and (2) the influence of neo-liberal economic thought.The persistence of formalism is a serious problem for Brazilian development since it naturalizes the existing institutions and their related power positions, creating an obstacle to any project of development that proposes something new. It blocks the development of a critical and reflexive knowledge on institutions, shortening institutional imagination to projects that could transform Brazilian reality.The main objective of this article is to develop a critique of formalism useful both as a general method to criticize formalism and as a tool to criticize its Brazilian manifestation. It will be argued here that the critique of formalism fails when it is only theoretical. An efficient critique must also grasp the ideas and the social relations responsible to reproduce formalism as a conceptual idea that informs social practices.To do that, this article will first propose a characterization of Brazilian formalism that does not fit in the Formalism X Instrumentalism dichotomy and is more adequate to grasp how law rationality works in countries from the Continental Law tradition. Afterwards, it will identify the power positions and the respective ideologies responsible to reproduce formalism in Brazil, giving criticism a sociological basis. Finally, it will show that only a positive view of what law should be will able to overcome formalism, both as a philosophical idea and as a social practice. In its final part, a sketch of such a view will be presented.

Suggested Citation

  • Rodriguez Jose R., 2010. "The Persistence of Formalism: Towards a Situated Critique beyond the Classic Separation of Powers," The Law and Development Review, De Gruyter, vol. 3(2), pages 41-77, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:lawdev:v:3:y:2010:i:2:n:3

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