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Sociology of law in European civil law countries

Some remarks and correspondent proposals

Tijdschrift Recht der Werkelijkheid, Aflevering 1 2015
Trefwoorden socio-legal studies, high theory, research, achievements and gaps
Auteurs Vincenzo Ferrari
SamenvattingAuteursinformatie

    In continental Europe, post-war sociology of law passed through diverse phases, swinging between grand theorizing and empirical research. In the last two decades, socio-legal studies have shown a more balanced approach with respect to these models. Neo-functionalism à-la Luhmann still takes the lead in high theory, although some more eclectic voices make themselves heard and some signs of renaissance of conflict theories have become visible again. Through an overview of the recent editorial policy of three influential journals in France, Germany and Italy, the author highlights that middle range socio-legal theory has successfully dealt with some relevant aspects of legal change of the last decades, in such fields as criminal justice, migrations, or family law. Yet, it has left aside other and no less important aspects, such as commerce and property laws, common goods, environment, and other crucial questions of our times. Thus, there is a risk for sociology of law not to perform its critical and pioneering task that belongs to its own tradition.


Vincenzo Ferrari
Vincenzo Ferrari is emeritus professor of philosophy and sociology of law. He has taught in the Universities of Cagliari, Bologna and Milan, and has been a visiting professor in diverse world’s academic institutions. He chaired the ISA Research Committee on Sociology of Law and was among the founders of the IISL, Oñati.

    In the course of it short existence, Socio-legal studies (SLS) in the Anglo-Saxon world has burgeoned into a rich and variegated field. Reviewing it is therefore a challenging task. I begin with some general reflections and an outline of recent developments. Although these indicate an extremely vibrant field, concerns have been expressed for the future. In my discussion of these, I argue that our analysis of SLS needs to be historicised since the emergence of SLS is connected to processes of social modernization and democratization. The erosion of these processes by neo-liberal discourses and policies is the background to a discussion of my own research into the impact of the cuts to civil legal aid in England and Wales. This leads me to conclude that the fundamental dissonance between neo-liberal rationality and social science may portend a difficult future, in particular for empirical work; however, I note too that other developments such as the ongoing juridification of society and new social media may make continued SL engagement irresistible.


Hilary Sommerlad
Hilary Sommerlad is professor of Law and Research Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research, University of Birmingham, and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. Dr. Sommerlad’s research interests are access to justice, the cultural practices of the professional workplace and diversity. She is Articles Editor of Legal Ethics, and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Law and Society and the International Journal of the Legal Profession.
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