Law's Reality: Understanding the Power of Legal Imaginaries

There are numerous ways in which we can tend to characterize law’s normativity. Law can be more or less prescriptive – that is, it can be more or less ‘interventionist’, ‘command and control’ as opposed to ‘flexible’ or ‘reflexive’. What these understandings of law’s normativity have in common is that their starting point for analysis is law itself – not scrutinizing critically, I argue, the constitutive power of the law’s outside: that is the ‘reality’ (be it nature, economy, technology, family, or society) toward which this legal normativity is directed. In this paper I intend to take this ‘outside reality’ of law seriously and ask how do the ways in which we imagine and represent reality shape law’s capacity to do its normative labour. I will argue that what matters for the understanding of law’s normativity, and its transformations over time – more than the quantity of law, or how prescriptive it is – is the way in which we construe the reality on which law should intervene.