The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity

The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity

The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity

The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity


This book looks critically at some of the underlying assumptions which shape our current understanding of the role and purpose of law and society. It focuses on adjudication as a social practice and as a set of governmental techniques. From this vantage point, it explores how the relationship between law, government and society has changed in the course of history in significant ways. At the centre of the argument is the elaboration of the notion of `adjudicative government'. From this perspective it is argued that the relationship between law and society must be conceived in a different way in the era of economics, sociology and statistics. The impact of these disciplines both constitutes `modernity' and unfolds a different role for law. The author argues that the traditional vision of the role of law, rooted in a complex set of hierarchical assumptions, is no longer adequate.


W T Murphy's book seeks to clarify some of the core issues in the relationship between law and society and to revise the way in which we think about the role of law. The author poses questions about the place and function of law in modern society, and asks how answers to such questions relate in turn to legal theory and socio-legal studies. He goes on to consider also what implications there might be for any future role for law.

The author takes issue with the general assumption that law is the solution to the problems of society. Instead, he presents in this book an argument that conventional ways of thinking about law in society, which he suggests are framed by hierarchical assumptions, need to be revised to give greater emphasis to what he thinks of as 'horizontal or parallel relations'. Some of the implications of this alternative view are addressed.

The author's approach to his analysis and argument is unashamedely eclectic, and he draws on the resources of a number of branches of learning beyond social theory, jurisprudence and sociology. This intellectual extraversion is a reflection of the author's view that in current thinking about the role of law conventional disciplinary frameworks are breaking down.

When the Oxford Socio-Legal Studies Series was relaunched, it was with the intention that it would broaden its intellectual scope by publishing theoretical as well as empirically-informed works of high quality. Like Roger Cotterrell's Law's Community, which has already appeared, and Brian Tamanaha's Realistic Socio-Legal Theory, W T Murphy's book engages with many of the important questions in the social theory of law.

Keith Hawkins . . .

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