Continuity and Change in the Sociology of Law
University of South Australia - School of Law; Durham University - Law School
September 13, 2009
Adelaide Law Review, Vol. 11, pp. 70-82, 1987
This paper argues that it is possible to identify at least three or four 'waves' in the history of the sociology of law. It can be argued that its first wave constituted the European or classical period of broadly based theorizing, best exemplified by works such as those of Weber and Durkheim. Somewhat overlapping with this first wave was a largely American-based second wave of legal sociology, which was often characterised by a somewhat abstract empiricism. It has been said of one aspect of this period, namely American legal realism, that it ultimately 'ran into the sand'. In other words, without theoretical maps to guide them, researchers who were carried forward by this second wave were unable to avoid, and so became immobilised by, the theoretical sand banks which lay in their path. Those on the third wave of the sociological movement in law have sought to learn from the experiences of the two earlier periods. A less parochial and a more comparative perspective emerged. With this came a more international dimension to the sociology of law as well as a modest commitment to theorising. Whilst the third wave had seen many attempts to theorise upon the basis of observations of legal behaviour, various limitations of this approach to the legal process had become apparent. For example, studies of legal behaviour have been found wanting as they have tended to neglect these other dimensions of the legal process, such as the construction of legal meaning. This has seen a fourth wave which has had an emphasis upon an integrated approach to theory, empirical inquiry and legal doctrine and represents a shift from earlier approaches to the sociology of law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 16
Keywords: Sociology of Law, Trends, Legal Theory
JEL Classification: K40, C80, B30Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: September 13, 2009
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