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Despite the importance of identities to the constitution of our personalities, interests, and behavior, nonidiosyncratic and collective cultural identities—such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religiosity—were largely ignored or underestimated as major topics for research in law-and-society studies until the 1960s. On one hand, students of law considered public policy and judicial processes more significant than identity politics. Even after the emergence of legal realism in the early twentieth century, legal scholars remained inclined to study law's internal logic and mechanisms. On the other hand, political scientists and sociologists tended to study law either within a formal framework or as a set of rules of the political game, as functionalists and structuralists imagined, or as an ideological epiphenomenon, as Marxists claimed.

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