Sunday, 4 November 2012

What Is Sociology of Law?

This is a question I often encounter (and usually the most confused looks come from people who at some point have studied law), so why not enlighten the world a little bit on a sleepless Sunday night.

Law tends to think that it is independent and autonomous and whatnot. We disagree with Law and claim that there is a whole web of social relations related to law and that these need to be studied. A very minimalist understanding of the sociology of law is “ to sociologically conceive of law as a particular category of rules and the social practices associated therewith”1.

Sociology of law sometimes studies the relation between society and law, sometimes it shifts its focus and pokes its nose into other people’s business – the relationship between law and politics (and then ultimately, society. For goodness sake, don’t forget about society) is a great deal of fun. Sociology of law can boast and say it’s truly interdisciplinary – sometimes it flirts with economics, sometimes with (social) psychology, at other times it has a crush on social anthropology or criminology. The list is endless and life never gets boring. Mainstream sociology is always there for some entertainment in case everything else would fail.

So, what exactly does the sociology of law study?

The Master’s I’m doing focuses on European law, so it looks slightly different. We occupy our pretty little heads with the following2:
    • democratic and cultural preconditions and development directions of the European Union and European integration processes
    • commonalities and differences in socio-legal cultures and traditions in Europe 
    • impact of European legislation on Europe and its surroundings and how this relates to legal, cultural, religious and social differences within and among European states.

If this didn’t make you want to go to sleep, I don’t know what will. At least I tried. Goodnight world!

1) Mathieu Deflem: Sociology of Law: Visions of a Scholarly Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 2008. P. 5.

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