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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
August 2023
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:
Socio-Legal Studies, Sociology: General Interest, Law, Comparative Law, Sociology

Book description

Modern state law excludes populations, peoples, and social groups by making them invisible, irrelevant, or dangerous. In this book, Boaventura de Sousa Santos offers a radical critique of the law and develops an innovative paradigm of socio-legal studies which is based on the historical experience of the Global South. He traces the history of modern law as an abyssal law, or a kind of law that is theoretically invisible yet implements profound exclusions in practice. This abyssal line has been the key procedure used by modern modes of domination – capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy – to divide people into two groups, the metropolitan and the colonial, or the fully human and the sub-human. Crucially, de Sousa Santos rejects the decadent pessimism that claims that we are living through 'the end of history'. Instead, this book offers practical, hopeful alternatives to social exclusion and modern legal domination, aiming to make post-abyssal legal utopias a reality.


‘At a moment when the world confronts multiple existential crises, this book-synthesizing a half-century of wisdom-is magisterial, essential, and poetic. De Sousa Santos sustains the impossible tension between optimism and pessimism by presenting examples of ‘real legal utopias’, a seeming oxymoron that captures the necessity to engage law as both a realist and a utopian.’

Richard L. Abel - UCLA

'This commanding volume offers a penetrating analysis of extreme inequality and the concurrent failure of social democracy globally. It encourages learning from counter-hegemonic real legal utopias and a vast plurality of social practices. Reflecting on his own intellectual travels and activism over decades, de Sousa Santos reveals a story of immense intellectual and ethical courage, constantly searching for new sociolegal insight applicable to today's unprecedented times.'

Eve Darian-Smith - University of California - Irvine

‘This is the magnum opus of Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s life and work, a compendium and reflection on the many pioneering achievements of a life lived well. His commitment to epistemic and cognitive decolonisation and his unwavering confrontation of the devastations of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy make de Sousa Santos the intellectual for our troubled times.’

Costas Douzinas - Birkbeck - University of London

‘The book offers a clear-eyed account of the possibility of progressive transformation. Drawing on his incomparable experience across multiple continents, nation-states, and political stakes, this is classic Boaventura de Sousa Santos. Encyclopaedic in scope and detail, it is magisterial in reach. A reference book for our times.’

David Theo Goldberg - University of California - Irvine

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