Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Susanne Baer

Sociocultural Legal Studies (Law & Society)

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information on Sociocultural Legal Studies (Law & Society)

For a critical reflection of „law“ or „legal norms“, it is necessary to understand how law develops within society and how it is used by whom and with which consequences. Questions include:

  • What are the effects of social circumstances, opinions and changing processes on the law or the sense of justice of the people?

  • Which social „reality“ is constructed by norms, which is suppressed?

  • Are legal regulations symbols, and only a 'piece of paper', or are they actions, observed and implemented?

  • Is it possible to describe the real consequences of laws and legal decisions?

Dogmatic or doctrinal legal studies understand „law“ as norms and regulations which are stipulated in norms, judicial decisions, administrative decisions and in other legal rules (“legal sentences”). Such studies aim to understand legal texts, and scientific reflection is meant to bring about the “real” meaning and the “objective” 'sense' of law.

In sociocultural legal studies, law can also be seen as a phenomenon of society’s realities, constructed by social behaviour-patterns and coherences, and by symbolic representations, and stabilising or changing existing power structures. These were topics of interest to Social Legal Studies, prominent in Germany at the beginning of the 1970s. At this time, social sciences found their way into legal studies. Some universities even installed a social-scientific legal education, which however did not succeed against the classic model of dogmatic training for judges, as the impersonated “full jurist”. The institutional embedding of Social Legal Studies as a “fringe science“ (Grenzwissenschaft) was and is still difficult.

Today, research on the interaction between law and society is leaving the boundaries of classical sociological approaches. The Anglo-American Law & Society Research is often understood as a transdisciplinary project, which covers the whole spectrum of social legal research compare: Bora/ Höland/ Jansen/ Lucke/ Machura/ Ludwig-Meyerhofer/ Teubner in ZfRSoz 21 (2001), p 319. It is understood that disciplinary approaches which understand law as a social phenomenon and analyse the connection between law and society inspire each other in their pluralism, and, not rarely, lead to changes of one's own scientific horizon/focus. Broadly defined, socio-cultural legal research includes, besides the classic empirical approaches, (legal) anthropology, ethnology, cultural studies, gender studies, economics, political science, social history and social psychology and administrative science.