Date01 March 1998
Publication Date01 March 1998
Philip A. Thomas (ed),Legal Frontiers, Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1996, vii + 346 pp,
hb £42.50.
Almost 350 people from at least 16 countries attended the ninth Annual
Conference of the Socio-legal Studies Association held at University College,
Cardiff in March 1997. While there remains, and no doubt always will remain, a
simple difference of scale between the Socio-legal Studies Association and the
American Law and Society Association, the former can now be compared to the
latter in terms other than envy, if the comparison is drawn by a British person, or
condescension, if drawn by an American.
It has by no means always been thus. In 1974, the initiative to launch the then
British Journal of Law and Society was taken by two junior members of the
Faculty of Law (plus a sociologist) from University College, Cardiff. The journal is
now published by Blackwell and has over 1,000 subscribers worldwide. There is
now also The International Journal of the Sociology of Law and Social and Legal
Studies as well as a number of titles providing fora for publication in particular
areas of socio-legal studies. Socio-legal scholarship is now welcomed in all but the
most traditional journals, and has not been completely denied a place even in those
One of the principal links between British socio-legal studies past and present is
Phil Thomas, the founding and continuing Editor of The Journal of Law and
Society and now Professor of Socio-legal Studies at the Cardiff Law School.
Recently, Thomas has brought out two collections of papers which give the best
available picture of the current state of socio-legal studies. These are Socio-legal
Studies and the book here reviewed, Legal Frontiers.
Socio-legal studies draws on the humanities and social sciences to illuminate
law. The chapters of this book discuss the ways in which those disciplines have
been cultivated and, to a lesser extent, developed by socio-legal scholars. Some of
the arguments in these chapters will seem a little convoluted to the non-specialist,
and the one obvious fault of the book is that certain of the papers, the oldest of
which was first published in the Journal of Law and Society series as far back as
1981, now show their age in respect of the literature they discuss (if not the ideas
they pursue).
This book is nonetheless testimony to the quality of the socio-legal work that
Phil Thomas has helped make possible over the past quarter century. The cutting
edge of socio-legal work is no longer in studies of ‘law and’ but in the production
of works of core legal scholarship which show socio-legal contract, crime, tort and
so on to be superior to their formalist rivals. Of course, to engage in such work one
must be aware of the resources that the humanities and social sciences have to offer
to the study of law. This collection is perhaps the best single volume to which one
can turn for an evaluation of those resources.
David Campbell*
ßThe Modern Law Review Limited 1998 (MLR 61:2, March). Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. 281
* School of Financial Studies and Law, Sheffield Hallam University.

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