In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sociology of Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies

Sociology Sociology of Law
Mathieu Deflem
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0056


The sociology of law refers to the sociological study of law and law-related phenomena, whereby law is typically conceived as the whole of legal norms in society as well as the practices and institutions that are associated with those norms. Dating back to the classic works by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, the sociology of law has partly also evolved in conjunction with intellectual efforts within legal scholarship, where a specialty of sociological jurisprudence developed. The sociology of law was for some time primarily part of the multidisciplinary field of law-and-society studies or the law and society movement, but it has in more recent years grown into a relatively autonomous branch of theory and research in sociology. It is from within the theoretical and methodological contours of the sociological discipline that the sociology of law derives its unique approach and value as a contribution to the social-scientific study of law. The number, quality, and variety of available writings in and about the sociology of law reflect its scholarly and institutional growth as a respected sociological specialty.

General Overviews

The tension between the sociology of law as a specialty in the broader discipline of sociology, on the one hand, and as one approach among others in the law-and-society field, on the other hand, is sharply reflected in the general works that are available about the subject matter. Some works on the sociology of law do not distinctly deal with the sociological study of law but instead provide overviews of the multidisciplinary field of law and society or they treat the sociology of law in more general terms (as a social science) or, in very few cases, even as an approach in legal scholarship. Fortunately, some works provide overviews of the sociology of law as a sociological field of specialization in relation to long-standing themes and perspectives in the discipline at large. Deflem 2008 and Tomasic 1985 provide sociological overviews, as do Arnaud 1981 and Gephart 1993 in non-English works. Calavita 2010 provides no specific disciplinary grounding, while Cotterrell 1992 offers a work in jurisprudence.

  • Arnaud, André-Jean. 1981. Critique de la raison juridique: 1. Où va la sociologie du droit? Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    Analysis of the intellectual development of the sociology of law, with special attention to the broadening of research areas, especially in European sociology.

  • Calavita, Kitty. 2010. Invitation to law & society: An introduction to the study of real law. Chicago Series in Law and Society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226089980.001.0001

    Provides an overview of various themes in law-and-society studies based on the author’s teaching experience. Written by a sociologist, but lacking in disciplinary focus.

  • Cotterrell, Roger. 1992. The sociology of law: An introduction. 2d ed. London: Butterworths.

    While providing good summaries of various theoretical ideas in the sociology of law, this book conceives of it as an approach in legal scholarship, not in sociology.

  • Deflem, Mathieu. 2008. Sociology of law: Visions of a scholarly tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511815546

    Provides an overview of the scholarly and professional development of the sociology of law as a disciplinary specialty, with particular attention to its theoretical foundations and the increasing variation in empirical research themes.

  • Gephart, Werner. 1993. Gesellschaftstheorie und Recht: Das Recht im soziologischen Diskurs der Moderne. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

    Excellent discussion of major theoretical issues in the sociology of law. Written in German, this book also shows the sharper development of such questions in some non-English-speaking countries.

  • Tomasic, Roman. 1985. The sociology of law. London: SAGE.

    Provides a general overview of the sociology of law as well as an illustration of some of its usefulness with reference to a number of empirical subject matters.

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