In two spatial and one time dimensions, general relativity turns out to have no propagating gravitational degrees of freedom. In fact, it can be shown that in a vacuum, spacetime will always be locally flat (or de Sitter or anti-de Sitter depending upon the cosmological constant). This makes **(2+1)-dimensional topological gravity** (2+1D topological gravity) a topological theory with no gravitational local degrees of freedom.

Physicists became interested in the relation between Chern–Simons theory and gravity during the 1980s. During this period, Edward Witten argued that 2+1D topological gravity is equivalent to a Chern–Simons theory with the gauge group

Witten later changed his mind, and argued that nonperturbatively 2+1D topological gravity differs from Chern–Simons because the functional measure is only over nonsingular vielbeins. He suggested the CFT dual is a Monster conformal field theory, and computed the entropy of BTZ black holes.