Theory and Methods in Socio-Legal Research

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Theory and Methods in Socio-Legal Research. Edited by Reza Banakar and Max Travers. Oxford, United Kingdom, and Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing, 2005. Pp. xvi + 376. $44.00 paper.

This volume constitutes the fourteenth title in the Law and Society Series, published for the Oñati (Spain) Institute for the Sociology of Law. The series, begun in 2000, now boasts nearly 20 titles on diverse legal issues ranging from criminal policy to Luhmann's legal theory, from family law to the semiotics of law. Like the other volumes in the series, Theory and Methods in Socio-Legal Research consists of a collection of original essays written by some of the top scholars in the area of sociolegal studies. In addition, like the other books, originating as they did in workshops hosted by the institute, this one comprises 16 papers, most of which were first presented at a seminar on research methods held at Oñati in April 2003.

The book's editors are two of the leading lights in sociolegal studies and, more specifically, in its subfield of research methods. In collaboration with each other as well as in their solo endeavors they have, during the past dozen years or so, published extensively, and impressively, in sociolegal research and theory, and this volume is their latest joint effort. Having as their general aim "to explore how different methods can be used in researching law and legal phenomena, and how methodological issues and debates in sociology are relevant to the study of law" (p. ix), the editors divide the book into six well-organized, if somewhat conceptually corrugated, sections: Method Versus Methodology, Ethnography and Law, Studying Legal Texts, Structural Approaches, Studying Legal Cultures, and SocioLegal Research in the U.K. They provide pithy introductions to each of the sections, but it is in their opening statement on law, sociology, and method (it alone merits the price of the book) that the editors consider the interdisciplinary nature of sociolegal research as well as the challenges of working in a field in which most of its practitioners are academic lawyers, not social scientists, and therefore lack systematic training in both sociological theory and research methods.

The collection contains contributions from sociolegal scholars working and researching in Australia as well as several European countries including Germany, Italy, and Denmark, but with the United Kingdom being the dominant case. Two chapters, however, are of studies done in non-European legal cultures: Botswana and Russia. The contributors, the majority of whom are based in departments of law, represent a wide variety of theoretical traditions. For instance, Ziegert cites the many advantages of systems theory in conducting empirical sociolegal research, from the micro (e. …