Legal culture and cultures of legality

Authored by: Susan S. Silbey

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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The concept of legal culture exacerbates confusions that already plague general uses of the concept of culture. Uses try to focus research on a wide range of action, experiences and interpretations that surround law. Some uses limit the study to the unofficial and non-legal behaviors that are nonetheless important for shaping what is more conventionally understood as formal legal phenomena, in effect social forces working on law. More recent uses include both narrow relatively efforts to describe the particular legal system of different national cultures as well as broader inquiries where culture is understood as an analytic concept describing a system of circulating signs and practices that reference law, formally or informally. Three current threads appear in the scholarship on legal culture: studies of legal ideology, exploring the power at work in and through law; legal consciousness, participation in the construction of legality, which refers to the meanings, sources of authority, and practices that are associated with or informed by law; and work on legalities and counter law that challenges the fetishization of the rule of law as a political tool. The chapter concludes with an analysis of legal culture as a dialectic of general ahistorical aspirations and pragmatic, local practices.

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