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Promoting Dialogue between History and Socio-Legal Studies: The Contribution of Christopher W. Brooks and the ‘Legal Turn’ in Early Modern English History

Journal of Law & Society, Special Issue: Main Currents in Contemporary Sociology of Law, Volume 44, Issue 5, ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 37- 60, October 2017

19 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2017  

David Sugarman

Lancaster University - Law School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 3, 2017

Abstract

This paper argues that the work of socio-legal scholars and historians would benefit from greater dialogue, and from taking the social history of law itself more seriously. It points up the benefits and the difficulties that might arise from greater cross-fertilization. By way of a case study, it focuses on the ‘legal turn’ in recent history writing on early modern England, particularly, Christopher W. Brooks’s ground-breaking analysis of the nature and extent of legal consciousness throughout society, and the central role of law and legal institutions in the constitution of society. The paper critically reviews Brooks’s principal ideas and findings, the contexts within which they arose, their theoretical underpinnings, and their larger significance. It highlights Brooks’s engagement with diverse scholars, including John Baker, Marc Galanter, Jürgen Habermas, Robert W. Gordon, J.G.A. Pocock and E.P. Thompson. It is proposed that Brooks investigated both elite and popular legal consciousness on an almost unparalleled scale, adopting top-down and bottom-up approaches that revealed the trickle-up, as well as trickle-down, diffusion of legal ideas, transcending the boundaries of social, political, and legal history. More generally, the paper seeks to demonstrate that the turn to law in early modern English history has enlarged the field in terms of subject-matter, methodologies and the range of sources utilised, deepening understanding of the workings of law and its wider importance. Indicative subject areas and topics enhanced by the legal turn are outlined including: law, gender, agency and social hierarchy; legal consciousness; trust, contractual thinking, and capitalism; governance and the growth of state power; and the decline in the participation of ordinary people in the legal system, and the so-called ’vanishing trial’. The paper concludes that a convergence between history, legal history and socio-legal studies has been underway in recent decades, that it provides opportunities for greater cross-fertilization, and that this would enhance our understanding of the role of law in society, and of society. For that greater dialogue to happen there would need to be better institutional support, changes in the cultures and mind-sets of history, socio-legal studies and legal history, and greater self-reflexivity. It would also generate difficult questions and controversy as to what sort of rapport might be appropriate, when, how and to what effect

Keywords: Legal History; Socio-Legal Studies; Legal Education; Early Modern English History; Law and Society; Lawyers; The Legal Profession; Litigation; Law and Gender; Legal Consciousness; Criminal Law, Policing and Punishment; Civil Law; Courts; Governance and the Growth of State Power; Law and Literature

Suggested Citation

Sugarman, David, Promoting Dialogue between History and Socio-Legal Studies: The Contribution of Christopher W. Brooks and the ‘Legal Turn’ in Early Modern English History (July 3, 2017). Journal of Law & Society, Special Issue: Main Currents in Contemporary Sociology of Law, Volume 44, Issue 5, ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 37- 60, October 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3049624

David Sugarman (Contact Author)

Lancaster University - Law School ( email )

Law School
Lancaster University
Lancaster, LA1 4YW
United Kingdom
(01524) 594243/592478 (Phone)
(01524) 848137 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/law/people/david-sugarman

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