Domesticating the Sociology of Law

Date01 January 2008
Published date01 January 2008
Domesticating the Sociology of Law
Simon Roberts
Roger Cotterrell, Law, Culture and Society: Legal Ideas in the Mirror of Social
Theory,206pp, pb d22.50, Aldershot: Ashgate,20 06.
What could a sociology or ethnography of law be, and how might law be con-
ceptualized for the purposes of such an enterprise? If we think backto the end of
the 1960s, the sociology of law appeared set to consolidate as a recognised special-
ism within aburgeoning ¢eld of study. It thenclaimed unambiguousdisciplinary
a⁄liations, a corresponding aspiration to ‘external’perspectives, the readiness to
treat a wide range of understandings and institutions as ‘legal’ and (while there
same time, the still young discipline of academic law was on the threshold of a
dual expansion, ready both to draw upon resources other than legal philosophy
for the foundation of its theoretical speculations and to move away from its his-
toric focus on state law, marking out a much larger ¢eld for scholarly investiga-
tion. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, wehave some idea asto how these
adjacent scholarly enterprises have fared. Most obviously, law departments have
become much bigger and more powerful than sociology departments, academic
lawyers have cometo draw with increasing freedom on the resources of the social
sciences and they are almost all legal pluralists now. But, judging from Roger
Cotterrells Law, Culture and Society: Legal Ideas in the Mirror of Social Theory, muc h
remains contested and unresolved as to: the identity of law and the boundaries
of nowplural legal ¢elds;the disciplinary a⁄liationsand methodological founda-
tions of a still evolving sociology of law; and the reach of a reformist mission
across these adjacent areas of scholarship.
Roger Cotterrell has made thoughtful and consistent contributions over many
years as academic lawyers have expanded the social ¢eld that they keep under
observation and the theoretical resources they conventionally draw on; and he
has paused constructively from time to time to re£ect on the state of play and to
laydown markers as to itsfuture direction.One such pause yieldedLaw’s Commu-
nity: LegalTheory in Sociological Perspective
now in Law, Culturea nd Society: Legal Ideas
in the Mirror of Social Theory he has again self-consciously broken o¡ to take stock.
A lot has happened over those eleven years. Cotterrell’s big picture has held
steady in that he remains preoccupied with what he has long seen as a great pro-
blem of our time ^ state law’s loss of moral authority and its declining ability to
generate and sustain commitment. In terms of a solution, his long-term
Law Department,London School of Economics.
1 R. Cotterrell, Law’s Community: LegalTheory in Sociological Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University
r2008 The Author.Journal Compilation r2008 The Modern Law Review Limited.
Published by BlackwellPublishing, 9600 Garsington Road,Oxford OX4 2DQ,UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
(2008) 71 (1) 132^ 14 4

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