chapter  3
State and Law in Latin America
A Critical Assessment
WithLisa Hilbink, Janice Gallagher
Pages 14

This chapter reviews socio-legal work that has focused on the weak state/weak law problem in Latin America over the past several decades, examining, in particular, the sources of barriers to, and limits of judicial effectiveness, as well as alternatives to state-based rule of law. We organize the literature into two categories: 1) works centered on the institutional sources of and barriers to legal effectiveness, including works that emphasize the embeddedness of state institutions in social and economic contexts; and 2) works that consider how actors outside the state – social movements, civil society, revolutionary movements, transnational networks – have moved the needle in terms of state responsiveness to legal claims, or, at times, have circumvented, or substituted for state legal institutions and processes. These works, we argue, signal three shifts in how we might better understand, explain, and redress the region’s dire shortcomings in regimes of legality: by looking down – away from high courts to low; by shifting the gaze out – away from national units and toward subnational and cross-sector or comparisons; and by examining how average citizens perceive and respond to the state and law.