Strand 2: theoretical perspectives

Over the past few years, we have covered a range of theorists and perspectives - positivism, feminism, legal consciousness,[1] street-level bureaucracy, Weber, Foucault, Marx. The last was specifically introduced following student feedback.

Strand 3: empirical methodologies

We have introduced students to a variety of experimental methods including: use of court records, interviews, postal questionnaires; case studies; genealogies; action research; film analysis; and print media analysis.

Within each broad theme we introduce students to a theoretical perspective, one or more methodological approaches, as well as some of the scholarly work in the theme.

We know that, for the vast majority of law students, socio-legal studies is very different from most of the modules that they have previously studied in the Law School; and, equally, that the assessments will require that they think differently. Therefore, before embarking on the thematic areas, we begin with an introductory seminar which aims to

  • • introduce the idea of 'socio legal studies';
  • • introduce the unit, discuss the format of seminars and the modes of teaching to be used;
  • • provide an overview of the assessments; and
  • • through the format of a group exercise, stimulate students' thinking about what law is and the myriad of places and spaces where law might be found.

Finding appropriate reading for this lecture has always been, and remains, a difficulty. There is no core text for socio-legal studies (a market gap that maybe someone could fill?). The 'broad church' nature of socio-legal studies means that it has proved impossible to find the ideal material that can introduce the range of perspectives. The difficulties are compounded by the different genealogies of the North American 'law and society' movement and the UK socio-legal approach, the latter starting out as highly empirical and developing into a more theoretically grounded movement (converging with the law and society approach: see further Cotterrell, 1995; Hutter and Lloyd- Bostock, 1997; and Friedman, 2005).

The approach we have taken has been to introduce some of the debates between lawyers and sociologists, and in socio-legal studies/law and society studies through the first chapter in Steven Vago's, Law and Society (2009), and an article that appeared in the first ever number of the British Journal of Law and Society (now Journal of Law and Society), I D Willock's 'Getting on with sociologists' (1974). This is not a wholly satisfactory solution as the Vago chapter is too focused on US approaches, and the Willock article is somewhat dated and so unable to take account of more recent UK developments. We keep on searching. In addition to these two pieces, we have found it necessary to introduce law students to the political background to much of the UK-based empirical research; for this, Harlow and Rawlings' seminal book Law and Administration (2009) is ideal - chapter 2 covers a lot of the ground in language that is fairly familiar to law students.

  • [1] Although we accept that it is a moot point as to whether this is a theoretical or methodological perspective.
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