The Negative Dialectics of Law
Luhmann and the Sociology of Juridical Concepts
This article proposes to read Niklas Luhmann’s sociological theory of law from the perspective of what may be called the negative dialectics of law: namely, the irreconcilable tension between law as a mechanism that reproduces institutional orders and stabilizes normative expectations, and law as a medium that empowers transformative action and motivates social innovations. Drawing on this tension, the article advances an interpretation of the critical potential of Luhmann’s conceptualization of law by pointing out that the normative form of society emerges out of conflicts about the form of the normative within society. This formulation supposes that the unfolding of law is not the rational completion of higher principles into unified social structures, but a contradictory outcome semantically produced through endless iterations of the difference between what is legal and what is illegal. In doing so, it argues for a sociological reconsideration of the work of juridical concepts in the everyday operation of legal communications, as well as in the normatively guided search for what is non-actualized within the existing scope of positive legal forms. By reading Luhmann along the lines of a critical engagement with the law, the article further calls for exploring constituent moments as instances of reflexive instability that signal the unmarked space of normativity and bring the politicality of concepts to the fore.