Book Reviews

Date01 June 2001
Publication Date01 June 2001
sociologique des systèmes juridiques. Brussels: Bruylant, 1998. xxii + 378pp. 2.950BEF.
This book is presented as a ‘manual’ but it is not a textbook of legal sociology and
does not attempt to survey substantive research in the f‌ield. Instead, it tries very am-
bitiously to rethink the entire project of ‘sociology of law’, claiming that this term is
becoming ‘a bit obsolete’ and its projects have ‘a markedly old-fashioned stamp’ (pp.
3, 26). So the emphasis is on epistemology, changing paradigms, emerging themes for
study and problems of method.
Dulce (author of the introduction and Part 1) surveys the tradition of legal soci-
ology, and its problems as perceived in a continental European context. Arnaud
(author of Part 2) builds on this to elaborate a new agenda for sociolegal studies. This
agenda seeks to escape the failings of the old paradigms of legal sociology. What are
these failings? Sociology of law, Arnaud claims, has tried to constitute itself as an aca-
demic discipline (usually a sub-branch of sociology). So it has been marginalized from
legal science and subordinated at the edge of sociology. He argues that the ‘discipline’
of sociology of law should be replaced with an interdisciplinary project of sociological
analysis of juridical systems [systèmes juridiques]. Law as lawyers understand it is only
one kind of juridical system, distinguished from others by special forms of legitimacy
and authority, which guarantee its enforcement, supervision and recognition by the
state. Other juridical systems exist apart from state law. They are normative systems
seeking to become state law and organized around it, coexisting with it.
Researchers, in Arnaud’s view, must construct juridical systems for the purposes of
study, but these systems gain coherence and meaning only from their relation to the
law of the state. He writes, for example, of norms governing abortion that demand
recognition in place of existing state law. Hence the sociology of juridical systems is
concerned especially with law in the process of change; studying these systems makes
it possible to identify normative sources of future law, or tensions informing legal
The approach is thus constitutive or constructive, rejecting positivism (which
Arnaud sees as part of the dominant paradigm of the old sociology of law). It is also
pluralist, focusing on relationships between juridical systems. And the concept of
system is central. Although Arnaud thinks Luhmann’s system theory is too rigid, he
sees the analysis of normative phenomena in terms of systems as def‌initely the way
forward. Pluralism, complexity, interrelation of systems: for Arnaud these concepts
are keys to the postmodern condition of law. Law is decentred, especially in a Euro-
pean context. It is created from many institutional sources. Legal systems are less hier-
archies of authority than networks, created and recreated by uncoordinated acts of
very diverse institutions. Hence law is polycentric. The old legal logics no longer
SOCIAL &LEGAL STUDIES 0964 6639 (200106) 10:2 Copyright © 2001
SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi,
Vol. 10(2), 273–282; 017409
09 Book Reviews (bc/d) 30/4/01 10:35 am Page 273

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