Deliberations by sociologists on law in society often occur in the context of one of two ideal and classic conceptions of society: the consensus and the conflict perspectives. The former describes society as a functionally integrated, relatively stable system held together by a basic consensus of values. Social order is considered as more or less permanent, and individuals can best achieve their interests through cooperation. Social conflict is viewed as the needless struggle among individuals and groups who have not yet attained sufficient understanding of their common interests and basic interdependence. This perspective stresses the cohesion, solidarity, integration, cooperation, and stability of society, which is seen as united by a shared culture and by agreement on its fundamental norms and values.

In contrast, the conflict perspective considers society as consisting of individuals and groups characterized by conflict and dissension and held together by coercion. Order is temporary and unstable because every individual and group strives to maximize its own interests in a world of limited resources and goods. Social conflict is considered as intrinsic to the interaction between individuals and groups. In this perspective, the maintenance of power requires inducement and coercion, and law is an instrument of repression, perpetuating the interests of the powerful at the cost of alternative interests, norms, and values. Let us examine in some detail the role of law in these two perspectives.

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