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Legal Framing

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-78190-619-4, eISBN: 978-1-78190-620-0

ISSN: 1059-4337

Publication date: 29 April 2013


The sociological and socio-legal literatures on social movements have identified three main types of “legal framing” in contemporary social movement discourse: collective rights framing, individual rights framing, and nationalistic legal framing. However, it is unclear from the current research how movement actors decide which of these framing strategies to use, under what circumstances, and to what effect. In this article, I offer a model for future empirical research on legal framing, which (1) distinguishes legal framing by its argumentative structure, ideological content, and remedy; and (2) analyzes how a social movement’s internal culture and institutional environment constrain the symbolic utility of particular legal frames and shape the movement’s legal framing strategy. I argue that the alternative approach offered here will help theorize how social movements strike a balance between the institutional pressure to reproduce dominant ideologies and the internal pressure to reform those ideologies. This perspective thus helps build socio-legal theory on the relationship between legal framing and social subordination, and on the conditions under which movements will be able to inflect legal language with insurgent social movement values.


Leachman, G. (2013), "Legal Framing", Sarat, A. (Ed.) Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 61), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 25-59.



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