Law as Fetter, Law as Fodder: Toward an Uneven and Combined Development Theory of Law

Susan Dianne Brophy


Susan Dianne Brophy
Assistant Professor
Legal Studies
St. Jerome’s University (in the University of Waterloo)

As vestiges of previous methods of production carry over and conflict with new productive means, so too do laws of the past combine with new laws. Granted, that various legal orders preside in any one jurisdiction has long been seen as evidence of legal pluralism; however, this approach lacks a systematic understanding of history in general, and as such, tells us little about the inner machinations of law’s relation to capitalist development in particular. What is needed instead is a dialectical materialist approach to legal development; for this reason, I tender an uneven and combined development (UCD) theory of law.

Law flexes in concert with ever-changing social relations, or more plainly, law evolves in an uneven and combined manner. This flexibility is essential to capital being able to negotiate its barriers, which supports my broader claim that law is socially necessary for the growth of capitalism. Specific legal conditions are intrinsic to turning land, labour, and capital into commodities, such transformations that are necessary to found the capitalist mode of production as we understand it today. More than being mired in the contradictions that are the driving force of the UCD of capitalism, however, law also boasts its own set of contradictions that, if carefully accounted for, helps distinguish the historical evolution of capitalism as a social totality.

uneven and combined development - law