Sociological Jurisprudence and Sociology of Law

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Sociological Jurisprudence and Sociology of Law

Roscoe Pound (l87O—1964) was the first jurist to make the social dimensions of law, a central concern of Anglo-American jurisprudence. He was by no means the originator of the sociological tradition in law, which in fact commenced in Germany and France. Pound’s achievement was to combine thoroughgoing technical study of the law in all its aspects with the insights and methods developed by sociologists of law. He called this branch of study sociological jurisprudence, to distinguish it from sociology of law. However, sociological Jurisprudence, as the name suggests draws inspiration, ideas and methods from sociology of law.

Sociology

The study of society is as old as philosophy. Political theory, moral philosophy and even religion are concerned with society in one way or another. Sociology as a distinct discipline has a more recent origin, in the work of the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798—1857). Sociology seeks to understand the workings of society in a scientific way. There are two main sociological schools: positivist sociology and interpretive (antipositivist) sociology.

Positivist sociology

Positivist sociology is based on empiricism and scientific method. Empiricism is the belief that the only true knowledge is knowledge gathered from observed facts. It is the philosophical foundation of science. Physical science consists of theories about the behaviour of non-living things, ranging from celestial bodies to sub-atomic particles.

Biological science studies living organisms, from the largest animal and plants to the smallest micro-organisms. Social science tries to do something similar with societies. Positivist sociology is a branch of social science that applies the objective methods of empirical science to the study of society. Its method typically involves the collection and analysis of empirical data and the construction and testing of theories. If crime rates are consistently higher in poorer neighborhoods than in prosperous ones, a positivist sociologist may construct the hypothesis that poverty is a cause of crime and then test this against further evidence. Positivist sociologists have produced specific theories on subjects such as crime, family breakdown and race relations, as well as general theories about society and social change. The object of positivist sociology is to make knowledge about society less speculative and more evidence based.

Interpretive sociology

Interpretive sociologists maintain that the social world is very different from the natural world; hence, it cannot be studied by the methods of natural science. Society is not governed solely by the laws of nature. Society consists not of robots but of thinking individuals, who are guided by norms, symbols, values, beliefs, ideals, ideologies and many other cultural factors. There are psychological and spiritual dimensions of society that cannot be understood or measured by external observation alone. Leading sociologists of law, including Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Eugen Ehrlich, adopted the interpretive approach. The interpretive method has been more influential in the sociology of law, although the positivist method is alive and well in the modern socio-legal research programs in universities, particularly in the United States.

Sociology of law is that part of sociology that seeks to understand the social reality of law in all its dimensions. Sociologists, though, have a different concept of law from that commonly held by lawyers. Lawyers limit the term ‘law’ to the formal law of the state, comprising statutes, official commands, judicial precedents and such like. Sociologists have a much broader view of the law. Law in this wider sense encompasses all forms of social controls, including customs, moral codes and internal rules of groups and associations such as tribes, clubs, churches and corporations. In this context, lawyers’ law is only a highly specialised...
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