The Law & Society Reader II

The Law & Society Reader II

The Law & Society Reader II

The Law & Society Reader II


Law and society scholars challenge the common belief that law is simply a neutral tool by which society sets standards and resolves disputes. Decades of research shows how much the nature of communities, organizations, and the people inhabiting them affect how law works. Just as much, law shapes beliefs, behaviors, and wider social structures, but the connections are much more nuanced--and surprising--than many expect.

Law and Society Reader II provides readers an accessible overview to the breadth of recent developments in this research tradition, bringing to life the developments in this dynamic field. Following up a first Law and Society Reader published in 1995, editors Erik W. Larson and Patrick D. Schmidt have compiled excerpts of 43 illuminating articles published since 1993 in The Law & Society Review, the flagship journal of the Law and Society Association.

By its organization and approach, this volume enables readers to join in discussing the key ideas of law and society research. The selections highlight the core insights and developments in this research tradition, making these works indispensable for those exploring the field and ideal for classroom use. Across six concisely-introduced sections, this volume analyzes inequality, lawyering, the relation between law and organizations, and the place of law in relation to other social institutions.


Many students find themselves drawn to law as a topic or field of study. They often see in law an ability to right injustices, perceiving in law the advantages of independence, logic, and structure, which combine to promise the “correct” outcomes. From this perspective, law appears as a sanctuary from the dirtiness of politics, the ambiguity of culture, the self-interest of economics, and the messiness of social relations. The kind of legal education provided in many countries has done little to discourage students from their belief that law rises above these potential contaminants and remains pure. We may be a long way removed from the view that the laws of a nation are the expression of the will of a divine creator, but for many the appeal to law remains rooted in the belief of the distinctiveness of law as a pursuit. If anything, from this perspective, the study of political, cultural, economic, and social processes is most useful for how it can illuminate the problems that law should address. Indeed, a century ago, many reformers—the legal realists—turned to social science as one way of giving law exactly that sense of direction.

Over the 20th century, however, the social sciences evolved and legal scholars changed their approach. Careful empirical research and new veins of theoretical insight complicated our understanding of law in the hands of people. Law, all but the most resolute will concede, is not as independent as once envisioned. As law actually operates, it remains connected to the messiness of the daily life of politics, culture, economic activity, and social relations. The belief that law is somehow majestically separate and uniquely powerful still influences the rhetoric of law and, through that rhetoric, aspects of how the law works in action. There is drama in the portrayal of law in fictional entertainment and in media reports of factual cases. But when we tear off the veneer of appearances, we open up a world that needs and welcomes any disciplinary or interdisciplinary approach that can help us understand how law works in society.

This research tradition of social science concerned with law has long been a recognized field of scholarly inquiry, although it has been formally organized for only about half of a century. Founded in 1964, the Law and Society Association serves as a scholarly community for people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds who seek to bring their intellectual perspectives to the study of law. As an interdisciplinary community, the Law and Society Association draws together legal scholars, social scientists of all stripes (including sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, linguists, and economists), and humanists (notably historians, philosophers, and scholars of literature).

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