Law's Social Forms: A Powerless Approach to the Sociology of Law

46 Pages Posted: 17 May 2014 Last revised: 7 Mar 2015

See all articles by Sida Liu

Sida Liu

University of Toronto; American Bar Foundation

Date Written: 2015


Since the law and society movement in the 1960s, the sociology of law in the United States has been dominated by a power/inequality approach. Based on a sociological distinction between the forms and substances of law, this essay outlines a “powerless” approach to the sociology of law as a theoretical alternative to the mainstream power/inequality approach. Following Simmel and the Chicago School of sociology, this new approach analyzes the legal system not by its power relations and patterns of inequality, but by its social forms, or the structures and processes that constitute the legal system’s spatial outlook and temporality. Taking a radical stance on power, this essay is not only a retrospective call for social theory in law and society research, but also a progressive effort to move beyond US-centric sociolegal scholarship and to develop new social science tools that explain a larger variety of legal phenomena across the world.

Suggested Citation

Liu, Sida, Law's Social Forms: A Powerless Approach to the Sociology of Law (2015). Law and Social Inquiry 40 (1): 1-28. . Available at SSRN:

Sida Liu (Contact Author)

University of Toronto ( email )

725 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2J4


American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States


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