Law and Social Order

The Capacity of Legal Reform to Facilitate Social Change

  • Daniel Rowan McKenzie


This essay reviews scholarly literature to explore the potential for legal reform to foster redistributive and participatory social changes in Canada. Distinctions are found among liberal, Marxist, critical race and feminist theories in the potential they recognize for social change through legal reformation. Theories which oppose liberal presumptions about objective justice can be distinguished by views of law as a mechanism of oppression and, alternatively, as a vehicle for resistance to oppression despite strong institutional and cultural constraints on social change. Legal reforms may lack effectiveness when they challenge dominant cultural stereotypes of women, minorities or poor people.