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School of Law

Sociological Approaches to Law

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2015/2016
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

In this course we set out the analytical (concepts and relationships), normative (values and interests) and empirical (facts and methods) heart of sociology, and ask what sociological approaches bring to the study of law. The approach is practical (drawing on real life examples) critical (highlighting both the merits and limitations) and contemporary.  The course complements the half option Economic Approaches to Law (15PLAH030) but can be followed independently. It also serves as a useful reference point for other courses that address law’s complex relationships with ‘the social’. No prior knowledge of sociology is necessary. Extensive use is made of e-learning tools.  

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

Subject Specific
  • Basic knowledge of analytical, empirical and normative features of sociology.
  • Understanding of how sociological normative, empirical and analytical tools can be used to explain and predict socio-legal phenomena, and to choose between laws and institutions
  • Understanding of the limitations of the sociological approach to law
  • Awareness of the existence of multiple sociological approaches to law.
  • Legal and philosophical analysis
  • Critical reflection
  • Interdisciplinary study
  • Appreciation of practical outcome from theory
  • Interdisciplinary analysis


Students are expected to attend one 2 hour seminar for 10 weeks.

Scope and syllabus

Topics covered are likely to include:

  1. Sociological approaches to law
    What does it mean to take a ‘sociological’ approach to law and why might it be useful to do so?
  2. The social basis for law
    Where does law come from and what are the social fields in which it operates?
  3. Law as an instrument of social change
    How do governments use law to cause social change and to what extent has their desire and ability to do so changed over time?
  4. Law, power and ideology
    Can law ever be neutral with respect to values, beliefs and power structures?
  5. The acceptance and legitimacy of law
    What factors determine whether individuals accept and engage with law?
  6. Legal professionals and disputes
    What does it mean to be a legal expert or member of the legal profession, and how are those roles played out in dispute-resolution?
  7. Enforcing and invoking law
    What factors prompt regulators and individuals to reach, or not, for law?
  8. Legal culture and transplants
    What is legal culture and what role might it play in the context of legal transplants?
  9. An economic sociology of law?
    How might insights from sociology enrich our understanding of relationships between economics and law, both as aspects of social life and as disciplines.
  10. Law as socio-legal object?
    What insights might we derive from examining laws as socio-legal objects, along side their human counterparts, as indicated by Actor Network Theory?

Method of assessment

100% coursework (one 6,000 word essay)

All coursework may be resubmitted.

Suggested reading

S. Bruce (2000) Sociology: A very short introduction Oxford: OUP.