What Makes a Social Science of Law? Doubling the Social in Socio-Legal Studies

  • Susan S Silbey
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Socio-Legal Studies book series (PSLS)


In this chapter, I explore what makes a social science of law, suggesting that the ‘socio’ in socio-legal refers to the social scientific study of law.1 As a set of interdependent human transactions (i.e. social actions), however, socio-legal studies involves a doubling of the social, both the subject and the method of inquiry. First, socio-legal scholarship investigates the human constitution of law, how human action produces law and legality.2 The second social in socio-legal recognizes this inquiry as a scientific enterprise. As a collective, interdependent, participatory and consensual process, a social science of law is a political and democratic project challenging legal authority to serve similar commitments. Many academics who identify as socio-legal scholars but not as social scientists may challenge my account. Such contestation and debate is welcome and well within the paradigm I am outlining. The first section begins with a general address to the quotidian life and meaning of science, about transparency and consensus in knowledge-making; subsequent sections discuss interpretive methods and theory-building, discussing parallels and differences between socio-legal scholarship and science studies.


Tacit Knowledge Legal Text Woman Scientist Social Scientific Study Rightful Place 
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© Susan S Silbey 2013

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  • Susan S Silbey

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