Defining Cutting Edge Scholarship: Feminism and Criteria of Rationality

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All too often, attempts to define or evaluate good scholarship develop criteria of meritocracy that reinforce existing hierarchies. Some of the efforts are quantitative. They involve cataloguing articles as measured by overall citation rates, ranking law reviews by citation counts, or classifying articles on a "greatest hits" list. Or they may count citations to construct a list of articles most-often-cited in fancy publications. Other efforts to describe quality scholarship involve the construction of criteria of merit, often for purposes of pronouncing what sorts of scholarship qualify for tenure, and for disqualifying nontraditional ideas and forms of writing as unworthy. The concern has been too much with the mechanics, numbers, and creditworthiness of scholarship and too little with its foundational qualities.

This essay explores some defining characteristic traits or properties of jurisprudential scholarship that has been pathbreaking. The purpose is to elucidate what ways of thinking and writing are cutting edge. The essay draws significantly on modern critical theories, particularly feminist legal theory, and on historically developing criteria of rationality, to sketch the features that characterize promising work in legal theory. This essay proposes that theory-acceptance in law be evaluated instead by the criteria of rationality, which include the scientific method and theory development. The argument is that good scholarship may or may not be popular, but it will be theoretically sound. The essay then looks through the lens of these criteria at feminist legal scholarship, demonstrating how much of feminist legal theory, in comporting with these criteria, has been at the cutting edge of theoretically solid innovation in jurisprudence. Finally, it urges scholars to generate a new discussion regarding the criteria of theory-acceptance toward the end of creating innovative sparks that lead to better theory-building

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Chicago-Kent Law Review