Sociologists and The Law

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Before proceeding with this review of the perspectives of the various academic disciplines, it might be helpful to briefly summarize the views of a leading scholar in the field of legal sociology, Edwin M. Schur, on the issue of why the study of law as a social phenomenon has been generally overlooked by sociologists.

Given the importance of law in social life and the existence of a distinctively 'legal' set of institutions, it is strange how little interest there has been in the field of legal sociology. Schur (1968, pp. 5-8) identifies four factors which contribute to this relative lack of attention to law as a social phenomenon.

a. First, law is often seen by sociologists as a normative enterprise involved in establishing rules of proper conduct. Since many sociologists believe that, as social scientists, they must draw a firm line between what is (an empirical question) and what ought to be (a normative question) they have avoided the normative world of law.

b. Second, he argues that the social scientist has often been afraid to enter into the apparently foreign world of the law. The overwhelming body of law, which exists, has been a barrier to many social scientists.

c. Third, there is a tendency, says Schur, for American sociologists to perceive the study of legal phenomena as more appropriately within the domain of philosophers of law, the students of jurisprudence. In addition, many of these philosophers had also received legal training and were seen, therefore, as possessing a major advantage over American social scientists.

d. Finally, he suggests that the study of law as a social institution is often hindered by the lack of mutual respect among lawyers and social scientists. Hampered by different terminology and pursuing different goals, lawyers and social scientists have...