From "Civil Society" to "Europe". A Sociological Study on Constitutionalism after Communism

By Winczorek, Jan | Polish Sociological Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

From "Civil Society" to "Europe". A Sociological Study on Constitutionalism after Communism


Winczorek, Jan, Polish Sociological Review


Grazyna Ska_pska, From "Civil Society" to "Europe". A Sociological Study on Constitutionalism after Communism. International Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology, Volume 118. Leiden: Brill, 2011, pp. 253. ISBN 978-90-04-19207-2

Keywords: constitutionalism, postcommunism, Grazyna Skaj>ska

Last fifteen years witnessed the rise of a new transdisciplinary field in the social sciences: societal constitutionalism. Perpetuated by diverse theoretical sources, notably by the macrosociological writings of an American sociologist, late David Sciulli (Sciulli 1986; Sciulli 1988; Sciulli 1992), this research area attracts scholars from a number of disciplines, including law, political science and sociology. Following Sciulli, they define their object of interest as the social conditions, processes and institutions that contribute to the successful establishment of a social order. In this vein, "constitutionalism" is given a brand new meaning. Not only does this term denote a body of black-letter law enshrined in written constitutions, a set of legal doctrines, a corpus of adjudicative decisions, and a "legal culture," but above all a web of social values, attitudes, meanings and actions of professionals and lay persons, which contributes to the distribution of power, effectiveness of social control and possibilities of attaining social integration.

Although not limited to law, this way of thinking corresponds with the longstanding agenda of sociology of law, aiming to challenge the trivialities of the juridical self-understanding by explicating the social embeddedness or indeed the social nature of law. Societal constitutionalism thus suggests that a social order requires that legal and non-legal conditions operate in concert. For that reason it finds a particular recognition in the debates on private, non-state or international constitutions (See contributions in Joerges, Sand, and Teubner 2004 and subsequent literature). In this way, societal constitutionalism takes the socio-legal agenda to the extremes, because it aims to refute juridical thinking in a field, where it is expressed most strongly: constitutional law. It questions the belief that social life can successfully be regulated by an arbitrary design, if only the regulation makes proper use of the highly complex and extremely abstract language of constitutional law.

The book under review, From "Civil Society" to "Europe". A Sociological Study on Constitutionalism after Communism, written by a recognized Polish sociologist, Grazyna Ska_pska, and published in 2011 by Brill in a series "International Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology" edited by Sciulli, rests on a very similar set of assumptions. Even if Ska_pska refers to the original formulations in societal constitutionalism only rarely, favouring theoretical eclecticism, her work could serve as an exemplary application of the concept. As she puts it in the extensive Introduction, "In light of my deepest convictions, the entrenchment of constitutions in extra-legal, social norms and expectations - but especially in discursive practices - and its recurrent contribution to the activation of such norms, expectations and shared meanings is of primary importance for democratic consolidation" (Ska_pska 2011, 15). Moreover, similarly to societal constitutionalism literature, From "Civil Society". . . clearly has not only descriptive or analytical aims, but also critical ones.

The specific object of Ska_pska's inquiry is re-enactment of the democratic, westernstyle constitutionalism in Eastern and Central Europe (abbreviated ECE, comprising Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic), post 1989 political changes. The author is interested in how well the opportunities for constitutional reforms created by past events and existing meanings, are utilised in the building of a new order and how good does the institutional framework of newly established constitutions fit with the expectations of the populace. …

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