Law as an Instrument of Social Change

Topics: Law, Sociology, Jurisprudence Pages: 6 (1546 words) Published: December 28, 2010

For decades now law and society theorists have been preoccupied with attempts to explain the relationship between legal and social change in the context of development of legal institutions. They viewed the law both as an independent and dependent variable (cause and effect) in society and emphasized the interdependence of the law with other social systems.

In its most concrete sense, social change means large numbers of people are engaging in group activities and relationships that are different from those in which they or their parents engaged in previously. Thus, social change means modifications in the way people work, rear a family, educate their children, govern themselves, and seek ultimate meaning in life. There are various factors which determine the rate and direction of social change. Some factors include (i) Biological factor (ii) Physical factor (iii) Technological factor (iv) Cultural factor (v) Economical factor and so many more. Legislation is one of the most powerful and important factor or tool of social change.


The conversion of Rome from Republic to Empire could not have been accomplished except by means of explicit legal decree buttressed by the doctrine of imperial sovereignty. Law, far from being a reflection of social reality, is a powerful means of accomplishing reality – that is, of fashioning it or making it. Law and especially legislation is a vehicle through which a programmed social evolution can be brought about.1 The Soviet Union succeeded in making enormous changes in society by the use of law. China also managed to moderate through law its population growth and as a result devote more of its resources to economic development and modernization. _

1 Hosen N, Reform of Indonesian Law in the Post – Soeharto era (1998-1999), PhD Thesis Faculty of Law, University of Wollongong, 2004. p25.
The law, through legislative and administrative responses to new social conditions and ideas, as well as through judicial re-interpretations of constitutions, statutes or precedents, increasingly not only articulates but sets the course for major social change. Attempted social change, through law, is a basic trait of the modern world.2 Professor Wolfgang Friedmann states that: ‘The law – through the legislative or administrative responses to new social conditions and ideas, as well as through judicial reinterpretations of constitutions, statutes, and precedents - increasingly not only articulates but sets the course for major social change.’

Many authors consider law as a desirable necessary and highly efficient means of inducing change, preferable to other instruments of change. In present-day societies, the role of law in social change is of more than theoretical interest. In many areas of life such as education, race relations, housing, transportation, energy utilization, protection of the environment, and crime prevention, the law and litigation are important instruments of change. Law plays an important indirect role in social change by shaping various social institutions, which in turn have a direct impact on society. For instance, mandatory school attendance upgraded the quality of the labor force, which in turn played a direct role in social change by contributing to an increased rate of industrialization. The law interacts in many cases directly with basic social institutions, constituting a direct relationship between law and social change.

Social change through litigation has always been an important feature in the US. Whether the change produced by such action is considered ‘constructive’ or ‘destructive,’ the fact remains that law can be a highly effective device for producing social change.


2 Lawrence Meir Friedman (1975).The Legal System: A Social Science Perspective. p.277 

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