Situationist Torts

Academic Article


  • This Article calls for a situationist approach to teaching law, particularly tort law. This new approach would begin by rejecting the dominant, common-sense account of human behavior (sometimes called dispositionism) and replacing it with the more accurate account being revealed by the social sciences, such as social psychology, social cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and other mind sciences. At its core, situationism is occupied with identifying and bridging the gap between what actually moves us, on one hand, and what we imagine moves us, on the other. Recognizing that gap is critical for understanding what roles tort law (among other areas of law) serves. Beyond that, a situationist approach helps to make clear the subconscious tendencies and otherwise unappreciated external forces that have shaped tort law and tort reforms. A situationist perspective on tort law, this Article argues, also has significant implications for how tort law is taught. The Langdellian model of teaching, which has monopolized the law school classroom since the late 19th century, has been the brunt of increasing criticism over the past several decades. Most critics emphasize that the casebook method forces the round complexities of law, lawmaking, and human behavior into the square holes of antiquated legal categories and idiosyncratic appellate decisions. A number of leading law schools are now dramatically reshaping their curricula to address such concerns. Simultaneously, legal theory is in the midst of its own revolution as legal scholars are beginning to reject the hard-core dispositionism at the foundation of law and to incorporate, or at least acknowledge, emerging insights from the mind sciences. The curricular and theoretical renovations underway represent what we would call a turn toward the situationist. Those trends have created a hospitable climate for the emergence of a more robust situationist approach to law and law teaching. This Article describes not only those trends and their implications, but also some specifics regarding how situationist torts would be taught and what a situationist torts casebook would look like.
  • Authors

  • Hanson, John D
  • McCann, Michael
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • 2008
  • Published In


  • Langdellian Model
  • casebook method
  • cognitive neuroscience
  • critical realism
  • dispositionism
  • legal realism
  • mind sciences
  • science of the mind
  • situationism
  • social science
  • tort
  • torts
  • Start Page

  • 1345
  • End Page

  • 1453
  • Volume

  • 41