Law in Culture

14 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2004

See all articles by Roger Cotterrell

Roger Cotterrell

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law


The relationship of law and culture has long been a concern of legal anthropology and sociology of law. But it is recognised today as a central issue in many different kinds of juristic inquiries. All these recent invocations of the concept of culture indicate or imply problems at the boundaries of established thought about either the nature of law or the values that law is thought to express or reflect. The consequence is that legal theory must, it seems, now systematically take account of the notion of culture. The present paper asks how this might best be done. I argue that a concept of culture, as such, is of limited utility for legal theory because the term "culture" embraces a too indefinite and disparate range of phenomena. But legal theory needs conceptual resources to consider at a general level the relations of law and culture. This paper suggests that these resources should include, above all, a rigorous distinguishing of different abstract types of community. Legal theory requires a sociologically-informed concept of community. What is encompassed by the vague idea of culture is actually the content of different types of social relations of community and the networks (combinations) in which they exist.

Suggested Citation

Cotterrell, Roger, Law in Culture. Available at SSRN:

Roger Cotterrell (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law ( email )

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