(P0-06) CANS theory is eccentric

Our claim is (contrary to what Webb (2014) recently argued in Ratio Juris) that in mainstream legal scholarship the application of CANS theory can hardly be observed at all. Some substantial work is and has been done (e.g., Ruhl (1997), Ruhl (1999), Tussey (2005), Ruhl (2010), Zhang (2014), Ruhl and Katz (2015) and Zhang and Schmidt (2015))) yet none of these authors would submit that CANS theory has secured a notable position in mainstream legal scholarship.

This is a matter for concern, we think. Complex Problems are persistent problems that emerge with complex adaptive networked systems. Considering the Complex Problems that we currently observe to be fruitlessly begging for legal intervention (like, e.g., global heating, urbanization/overpopulation, pandemics in real and in virtual worlds, and the deepening of economic/ educational/religious/politic divides), we find this a deplorable state of affairs as it denies CANS theory’s potential for law.

Perhaps CANS theory in Law is currently still (in Kuhn’s terminology) preparadigmatic.


Ruhl, J. (1997). Thinking of environmental law as a complex adaptive system: how to clean up the environment by making a mess of environmental law. Houston Law Review 34(4).

Ruhl, J. (1999). Sustainable development: A five-dimensional algorithm for environmental law. Stanford Environmental Law Journal 18.

Ruhl, J. (2010). General design principles for resilience and adaptive capacity in legal systems – with applications to climate change adaptation. NCL Rev. 89, 1373.

Ruhl, J. and D. M. Katz (2015). Measuring, monitoring, and managing legal complexity. Iowa Law Review 100.

Tussey, D. S. (2005). Music at the edge of chaos: A complex systems perspective on file sharing. Loyola University Chicago Law Journal 37, 147–212.

Webb, T. E. (2014). Tracing an outline of legal complexity. Ratio Juris 27(4), 477–495.

Zhang, K. (2014). Can Chinese Legislation on Informational Privacy Benefit from European Experience?, Volume 2014-1 of dotLegal Publishing Dissertation Series. dotLegal Publishing.

Zhang, K. and A. H. Schmidt (2015). Thinking of data protection law’s subject matter as a complex adaptive system: A heuristic display. Computer Law & Security Review XXX, 1–20.

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