De Lege Ferenda: What is the ‘Socio’ of Legal Reasoning?

  • Panu Minkkinen
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Socio-Legal Studies book series (PSLS)


In his seminal albeit controversial Sociological Justice, Donald Black made a strong plea for jurisprudence to ‘face reality’ and to endorse the social and political opportunities that the sociological study of law offered:

Sociological knowledge will surely grow, creeping throughout the world with a fatefulness unknowable. We only know that the science of society changes society. Social action increasingly becomes a self-conscious application of sociology. Sociological power is harnessed, a new form of energy generated, its uses impossible to imagine. A sociological society. (Black, 1989, p. 103)

In Black’s sociological vision, the ‘socio’ of the socio-legal refers to two interrelated things. Firstly, it is the society that jurisprudence as traditional legal reasoning has to face up to as its abandoned reality. Legal reasoning has allegedly decontextualized law from the society that it inherently belongs to, and sociology offers one way to redress this alienation. But secondly, socio would also stand for the science of the society of which law is a part. Unlike traditional legal reasoning, the science of a socially contextualized law has the power to transform its object of study, and so it includes within itself the potential of social reform. The socio is, then, an acknowledgment of both the society to which law belongs and the ability to change that society through appropriately contextualized science and knowledge. Black’s plea was at the same time a recognition of the growing significance of the law and society movement (Chambliss, 1982; Friedman, 1986) and, no doubt, also an accurate prediction of the future successes of its socio-legal sibling (Thomas, 1997; Wheeler and Thomas, 2000).


Welfare State Legal Reasoning Legal Practice Civil Liability Substantive Element 
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© Panu Minkkinen 2013

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  • Panu Minkkinen

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