The Inter-Relationship Between Sociology and Law

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There occurs a close relationship between society and law. Society is regulated by certain means of social control, and law plays a very important role is this respect. Since sociology deals with the study of society, there occurs a close relationship between sociology and law as well.

The sociological methods of research become relevant and indispensable for law. The close connection between the two has lead to development of the field of socio-legal studies. The common overlapping areas between sociology and law have given rise to socio-legal studies, where ht sub- field of law tends to analyze the social dimension of law. 
Durkheim’s Views on Law:

Durkheim’s views on law may be regarded to have laid down the foundation of sociology of law. His views are considered to be important in jurisprudence. 
Durkheim viewed law as a social fact. Durkheim argues that the content of law reflects collectively held sentiments which are essential for maintaining social solidarity.

Taking the functionalist view on law, he lays down two main functions/ purposes of law- to curtail the problem of crime within permissible limits and to provide sanctions against it. Further he opined that laws of the traditional system represent collective consciousness, whereas the modern laws/ legal system represent the moral sentiments of the people.

Durkheim talks about two types of laws- repressive laws and restitutive laws. Repressive laws are the laws that deal with criminal offences and are more prominent in simple societies that are represented by mechanical solidarity.

Contrary to this, restitutive laws deal with civil offences and individual rights. They are present in complex societies with marked organic solidarity. Criminal laws exemplify repressive laws, whereas commercial laws, administrative laws, civil laws, procedural laws and constitutional laws.

Karl Marx on Law:

According to Karl Marx, law is a part of the supra-structure and is determined by the economic mode of production which is part of the infrastructure) of a society. The owing class always played an influential role in determining which laws should be laid down and which acts of individuals should be viewed as crime.

Thus, only those laws are laid down that serve the interest of the owing class and only those acts are defined as criminal which are conducted by the working class. State tends to lay down certain laws for the masses (formed of the working class) to create a farce that state works for the welfare of the society as a whole. There is a mystification created around the laws.

State and its instruments are actually used as a screen to conceal the acts of the owing class. Similarly, the criminal acts committed by the owning class are not defined as criminal by the state.

Weber’s Ideas of Law:

Weber’s sociological writings contain the roots of sociology of law. Weber studied the empirical characteristics of law, contrary to the approach of others who focused on the study of its philosophy.

Law according to him belongs to the rational legal authority. These laws are coherent and calculable, and form the precondition for the development of modern bureaucratic state. They develop parallel with growth of capitalism.  

According to him, central to the idea of modern law is the formal rationalization, which obtains from its general procedures that are equally applied to all and impart impartial and fair treatment to the people. The modern laws are also codified and impersonal in nature. 

Weber further talked about legal order and explained it as a system where the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with the other laws on how they should be enacted and how they should be obeyed. It is enacted by the government which is solely responsible for its enactment and is empowered to use physical force on the deviants. 

Development of the Connection Between Society and Law:

Intricate relation exists between society and law, which justifies relevance of sociology I the area of law. The interfacing areas between society and law are known by various terms- sociology of law, socio-legal studies, Sociological jurisprudence etc. 

Earlier, law was treated in terms of its own categories, without any reference to the social environment in which it has developed. Legal experts  failed to view the legal system as a subsystem within the larger social system. As such, these experts remain completely detached from the social realities and implications of the legal system for a layman.

The apparent isolation of the legal system from the outside world has become the most characteristic feature of this system even in the present times. The lawyers’ conception of law has been largely refined and shaped by their own professional environment. They have become highly complacent about their position and the system in which they work.

As a result, these lawyers have become very resistant to different views  the nature and functions of law. On the other hand, entire  legal system seems to be very complicated and intimidating to the lay man. This creates a great chasm between the legal world and the society outside. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, the law professionals of Columbia and Harvard tried to apply the social scientific theory to legal problems. However, the approach had to be abandoned as it could not gain much support.

The breakthrough came after the Second World War, when the study of law and sociology received a new impetus in a study carried out by School of Law of Univ. of Chicago (the study being funded by Ford Foundation). This study focused on an interdisciplinary study of jury, tax system and commercial arbitration. This interdisciplinary study of the jurist system produced noteworthy results.

There was a gradual growth of sociological literature on legal system. With the emergence of the Welfare state, the need for having a new approach to study law was felt. The sociological study of law produced very rewarding results. In spite of this, the law experts did not look beyond the deductive style of reasoning, and this tendency has continued even today.

Many progressive judges in India (Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Y.V. Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagvati, D.A. Desai, O. Chinnapa Reddy, Venkatchelliah) have reflected their views on the positive relation between society and law, and have adopted the sociological approach in the interpretation of law. The legal luminaries relaize that the legal professionals should act by hunch, but on hard facts and concrete realities of the society

Law as a social science cannot depend upon abstract principles or rigid legal cannons alone- it has to placed in the social context in which it occurs and has to relate to the changing environment.


Written by - Max Croson

Edited by - Nidhi Verma

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