Chris Thornhill: A Sociology of Transnational Constitutions. Social Foundations of the Post‐National Legal Structure

Publication Date01 June 2017
AuthorMarco Goldoni
Date01 June 2017
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016, 520 pp., £69.99)
A Sociology of Transnational Constitutions is the second instalment of a
trilogy which makes up one of the most ambitious (in terms of scope and
width) and challenging (in terms of innovative reconstruction) research
programmes in contemporary constitutional theory. It is an impressive work
which matches the level of depth and complexity of other important
contemporary projects of constitutional theory like those, for example, of
Gunther Teubner, Bruce Ackerman, and Martin Loughlin.
This volume of the series expands the approach already developed in the
first volume by applying the sociological study of the constitution to the
supranational and transnational level. Methodologically, the volume is a
prosecution of the previous work on state constitutions and it is driven by the
same type of political sociology inspired by systems theory on which the
author has already written extensively. The main concern remains the same:
to reconstruct the development of modern constitutions in sociological terms
by using the question of inclusion as the core focus of inquiry. Inclusionary
processes are essential for Thornhill's definition of the constitution: `a
legally articulated form of a society's inclusionary structure' (p. 7) and the
political system: the `mass of institutional interactions in society by means of
which society produces, justifies and enforces decisions with some claim to
inclusive and collectively binding applicability' (p. 4). Inclusion is under-
stood sociologically (and not normatively) in two senses: at one level,
inclusion means the capacity for the political system to penetrate society at
large with political and legal decisions, and, at another level (that of the
observation of the constitutional system), inclusion sheds a light on constitu-
tional development because it provides the functional explanation for
constitutional change. Briefly put, constitutional orders tend to change under
the pressure of inclusionary inputs.
Thornhill's methodology is not only sociologically inspired, but also
sensitive to historical facts. This is an essential part of the whole enterprise
since the author is convinced that in order to understand global and trans-
national constitutions it is necessary, first of all, to reconsider the standard
narrative around the birth and development of modern constitutionalism. His
reconstruction of modern constitutions pivots around the central intuition of
the rise of a relatively autonomous political system at the inception of the
process which generates functional differentiation. Specifically, modern
constitutions emerge as a way to create a reserve of public power which is
available and can circulate relatively easily throughout society. From this
point of view, constitutions are understood as devices for de-patrimonializ-
ing society and stocking power which can functionally circulate with a view
to producing further societal inclusion. Hence, modern constitutions develop
ß2017 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2017 Cardiff University Law School

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