Sociology of Law

The sociology of law is a sub-discipline of sociology. Also, it is an interdisciplinary approach with legal studies. It is an empirical study of law that is systematic and based on theories and uses social experience or social practices.

According to legal sociology, law and justice are the basic structure of society that mediates between the normative order of society and culture, between economic and political interests, maintaining and establishing interdependence, and forming themselves as sources of social control, coercion, and consensus.

Sociology of law is intellectually dependent on social sciences, theories and methods of mainstream sociology, and traditions. It mirrors social theories and uses social scientific studies to study legal institutions, law, and legal behavior.

Intellectual Origins of Sociology of Law

Before the end of the last century, jurists and sociologists worked the relationship of law and society. Emile Durkheim and Max Weber explored this relationship through their seminal works. Other scholars like Georges Gurvitch, Eugen Ehrlich, and Leon Petrazycki used the social scientific methods and theories to create sociological theories of law.

The domination of rational-legal form within the society is attributable to abstract norms. Max Weber understood the calculable and coherent law results to a precondition for a modern bureaucratic state and political developments. The formal rationalization of the law is the focus of contemporary law. Weber’s approach to law is to study its empirical characteristics.

Emile Durkheim believed that civil law grows as the community becomes more complicated. Over time, the law transforms from repressive to restitiutive. It is an indicator of integration of society.

Eugen Ehrlich focused on the ways social groups and networks organized social life. He studied the relationship between general social norms and law. On the other hand, Leon Petrazycki differentiated official law and intuitive law. For him, the state supports official law, and legal experiences comprise intuitive law.

Theodore Geiger analyzed the Marxist theory of law and highlighted how it became a factor in transforming democratic societies. He developed anti-metaphysical thinking and practical nihilism. Georges Gurvitch fused simultaneous law manifestation in different levels and forms of social interaction. His purpose is to create a social law concept that is cooperative and integrable.

Modern Sociology of Law

Legal sociology emerged as an academic field of empirical research and learning after World War II. Talcott Parsons wrote about law as an important mechanism of social control. Critical sociologists, on the other hand, developed law as an instrument of power.

But, theorists like Philip Selznick believed that modern law was responsive to the needs of the society. Donald Black, an American sociologist, developed a scientific law theory based on pure sociology. The theory of autopoietic systems of Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist, presented law as a functioning system of society.

Jurgen Habermas argued that the law can be a system institution through the representation of genuine interests of people. But, Pierre Bourdieu, saw law as a social field of actors struggling for economic, symbolic, and cultural capital. From the 1960s to 1970s, sociology of law developed in European countries.

Recently, various theories in the sociology of law emerged because of the popularity of sociology theories. Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, post-modernism and deconstruction, feminism, behaviorism, and neo-Marxism influenced the sociology of law.


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