Legal Research and the Social Sciences

Posted: 10 Jul 2006

See all articles by Christopher McCrudden

Christopher McCrudden

Queen's University Belfast - School of Law; University of Michigan Law School; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law


Four overlapping research agendas form the bulk of current academic legal scholarship in Britain. First, the understanding and internal coherence of legal concepts and legal reasoning, how legal concepts fit together, the consistency of the use of concepts in different areas of law, the extent to which general principles can be extracted from legal reasoning that can be used to predict or guide future legal decision-making. Second, the meaning and validity of law, the examination of what makes law different from, or similar to, other normative systems. Typically, this has involved questions such as: "What is law?" "How far are issues of ethics or morality part of legal reasoning?" "How does a set of normative principles come to be thought of as 'legal'"? "How does law differ from other social institutions and practices?" Third, the ethical and political acceptability of public policy delivered though legal instruments, the consideration of issues such as whether specific legal interventions are acceptable when assessed against external moral, ethical or political principles, or what should be the appropriate legal response where none exists at the moment. Policy prescription is thus often encountered in legal scholarship, sometimes addressed to the courts, sometimes to policy makers in government. Fourth, the effect of law. What effect, if any, does law have on human behaviour, attitudes, and actions? How does it have these effects? Are some institutional mechanisms for delivering legal outcomes more appropriate or effective than others? Each of these four sets of issues can be studied in a purely domestic legal context, such as England and Wales, or at the European level, internationally or comparatively, as a contemporary issue, or historically. Which, if any, of these questions engage a legal academic in "social scientific" research?

Suggested Citation

McCrudden, Christopher, Legal Research and the Social Sciences. Law Quarterly Review, 2006, Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 33/2006, Available at SSRN:

Christopher McCrudden (Contact Author)

Queen's University Belfast - School of Law ( email )

School of Law
Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland BT7 1NN
United Kingdom

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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