This study deals with one of the key ideas for those interested in the law in action, though there is not much yet in the socio-legal literature that specifically addresses the notion of compliance. Bridget Hutter's book is particularly welcome, therefore, as one of the first to explore the practical meaning of the concept in any detail. It presents a fine- grained analysis, one firmly in the interactionist tradition.
As Dr Hutter observes, we tend to take compliance for granted as an uncomplicated matter denoting whether a state of conformity with a rule or requirement actually exists or not. What the author does, however, is to show that this is much too simplistic an assumption. She focuses on the nature and scope of compliance by conducting an empirical analysis of the compliance-seeking activities of three different kinds of regulatory inspector, and in doing so exposes the many facets and complexities of the concept in practice. Each of the inspectorates studied by the author (those for factories, industrial air pollution, and railways) shared a common formal organisation in the Health and Safety Executive, but their officials typically set about their law enforcement tasks in very different ways indeed and in often very different settings. The author's socio-legal analysis shows that what is thought of as compliance is provisional, and is a matter constantly open to interpretative work, leading to processes of social control marked by flexibility, adaptiveness, and reflexivity.
This book addresses a self-evidently important topic in the literature of social control, and is a welcome addition to a number of other works in the field of social regulation that have already appeared in Oxford Socio-Legal Studies.