Legal culture and cultures of legality

Authored by: Susan S. Silbey

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159

10.4324/9780203891377.ch45

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Abstract

Culture is a hotly debated and contested construct, evidenced by the existence and content of this handbook. The importation of this term into legal scholarship is fraught with unfortunate confusion. The meaning of the word “culture” alone is unstable, theoretically and empirically; adding “legal” to “culture” only exacerbates the conceptual tumult. Some confusion derives from intermingling two meanings of culture. One meaning names a particular world of beliefs and practices associated with a specific group. The second meaning is analytic rather than empirical, referring to the outcome of social analysis—an abstracted system of symbols and meanings, both the product and context of social action. In the former use, referring to the distinctive customs, opinions, and practices of a particular group or society, the term is often used in the plural, as in the legal cultures of Japan and China, or in reference to African or Latin cultures. In the latter analytic sense, the word is used in the singular, as in legal culture, or the culture of academia.

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