Sociology of Law

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLG2FC0054

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon semester 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Anuj Bhuwania

Email of course coordinator: anuj[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This course will serve to provide an introduction to sociological and anthropological traditions of understanding law. It will be a survey course and will cover a fairly wide area: it would introduce students to classical as well as contemporary debates in social theory around law, retrace the evolution of anthropological debates around law focusing on their key theoretical controversies, and finally deals with some central debates in the sociology of Indian law.

Course Outcomes:

On the successful completion of the course, the students would be able to:

  1. Have a critical understanding of instrumental approaches to understanding the relationship between law and society
  2. Understand the lack of fit between legal institutions and social mores
  3. Learn how legal pluralism is central to understand the relationship of law and society
  4. Critically understand ideas of popular justice and institutional forms that attempt to mimic it.
  5. Follow the debates on legal transplants and legal culture
  6. Appreciate the importance of ethnographic approaches to study law

Brief description of modules with Reading List:

We will begin this course with an examination of classic debates in social theory about the nature of modern law. We will then briefly examine the legal anthropological tradition, focusing on classic legal ethnographies. We then look at the ‘Law and Society’ tradition and go over some of its key debates. This will prepare the ground for our final object of study: sociological studies of law in India. Accordingly, there will be 5 modules in this course.

Module 1 will be the introduction to this broadumbrella theme of ‘sociology of law’. We will begin with some instances of Indian state’s modernisation drive being enacted through law. And then get a brief disciplinary overview of different traditions of sociology of law, to get a sense of what its stakes are.

Module 2 will be on Law and modern social theory. In this section we will examine classic debates about the nature of modern law in social theory. We will deal with the concerns vis-à-vis law of classical social theory – Montesquieu, Maine, Marx, Weber and Durkheim—its central problem being understanding the role of law in the rise of modernity and capitalism as well as examining the peculiarly modern nature of the new legal form. We will also look at Foucault’s insights on proliferation of disciplinary norms in the modern era and their relation to transformations of sovereignty and the juridical institutional fields.

Module 3 will be on histories and classics of legal anthropology. In this module we will first read some classic debates in legal anthropology and read some historically influential legal ethnographies. We then move on to more contemporary legal ethnographies with discursive and genealogical concerns being foregrounded.

Module 4 will be on the ‘Law and society’ tradition. In this module, we will study the tradition of sociological study of law within legal academia, with its formulations of ‘sociological jurisprudence’ and ‘law and society’. We will focus on key debates in this field, including the concepts of living law, law in action, legal pluralism, legal transplants, popular justice and legal culture, as well as read some classic contributions of this tradition.

Module 5 will focus on the Sociology of law in India. This course will culminate with a focus on sociological research on law in India. Two main concerns emerge: the project of the postcolonial state to reconfigure social relations through law with its impact on gender, caste and community; and statist attempts to tinker with popular justice forms and experiments to revive them.

Module 1: Introduction              



Week 1:

Introduction: Constructions of Indian Society by the Indian higher judiciary


Galanter, Marc. “The Displacement of Traditional Law in Modern India,” Law and Society in Modern India. 1989. OUP: Delhi. Pp. 15-36.

Marc Galanter, “Hinduism, Secularism and the Indian Judiciary” PhilosophyEastandWest 21 (4):467-487 (1971).


Gilmartin, David. “Rule of Law, Rule of Life: Caste, Democracy, and the Courts in India.” The American Historical Review 115.2 (2010): 406-427.

Das, Veena. 1995. “Suffering, Legitimacy and Healing: The Bhopal Case” In Veena Das, Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India. Pp 136-174. Delhi: Oxford University Press

Suggested Reading: Upendra Baxi, Towards the Sociology of Indian Law, (Satvahan, 1985)


Week 2:

Introduction to different traditions of sociology of law


Friedman, Lawrence M. "The Law and Society Movement,” Stan. L. Rev. 38 (1985): 763-780.

Comaroff, J. L. and Comaroff, J., “Reflections on the Anthropology of Law, Governance and Sovereignty,” In Rules of Law and Laws of Ruling: On the Governance of Law. von Benda-Beckmann, F., von Benda-Beckmann, K., and Eckert, J., eds. Pp. 31-59. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2009.


Cotterrell, Roger (1998) ‘Why must legal ideas be interpreted sociologically’ Journal of Law and Society 25/ 3 1998: 171-192.


Conley, J. M. and O'Barr, W. M. (1988) “Hearing the Hidden Agenda: The Ethnographic Investigation of Procedure.” Law and  Contemporary Problems 51(4):pp. 181-197


Module 2: Law and Modern Social Theory


Week 3

Sally Falk Moore, Law and Anthropology, p. 12-24 (Blackwell, 2005)

Max Rheinstein (ed.), Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society, (Simon & Schuster, 1954) (Selections)


Trubek, David, “Max Weber’s Tragic Modernism and the Study of Law in Society,” Law and Society Review, Vol. 20, No.4 (1986) pp 573-598


Suggested Reading:


Henry Maine, Ancient Law

Trubek D, “Max Weber on law and the rise of capitalism,” Wisconsin Law Review 1972: 720-53



Week 4

Durkheim, Emile. The division of labor in society. Simon and Schuster, 1997. (Selections)

Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish, Vintage books, 1977. (Extracts)

Foucault, Michel, and François Ewald. "Society Must Be Defended": Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Vol. 3. Macmillan, 2003. (Chapters 2 & 3)


Suggested Readings: Lukes, Steven, and Andrew T. Scull, eds. Durkheim and the Law. Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1983.

Foucault, M. 1978 [1976] ‘Right of Death and Power over Life’, in M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York: Pantheon Books, pp. 133-159



Module 3: Histories and classics of legal anthropology


Week 5 & 6


Sally Falk Moore, Law and Anthropology, p. 65-100 (Blackwell, 2005)


Clifford Geertz, “Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in a comparative perspective,” in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology

Comaroff, J. and Roberts, S., Rules and Process: The Cultural Logic of Dispute in an African Context. 1981. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.


Clifford, James, "Identity in Mashpee," in The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth –Century Ethnography, Literature and Art (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1988)

Bruno Latour. The Making of law: An ethnography of the Conseil d'etat.


Module 4: The ‘Law and society’ tradition: Key debates



Week 7, 8 & 9:


Ehrlich, Eugen. Fundamental principles of the sociology of law. Transaction Books, 1936. (Selections)

Pound, Roscoe, ‘Law in Books and Law in Action’, 44 Am. Law Rev, 1910, pp.12-36


Merry, Sally Engle, “Legal Pluralism,” 22 Law and Society Review 894 (1998)

Tamanaha, Brian Z. "Understanding legal pluralism: past to present, local to global."Sydney L. Rev.30 (2008): 375.


Cotterrell, Roger (1997) ‘The concept of Legal culture’ in David Nelken ed. Comparing Legal Cultures: 13-32.

Friedman, Lawrence 'The Concept of Legal Culture: A Reply', in David Nelken ed. Comparing Legal Cultures: 33-40.


Watson, Alan. Legal transplants: An approach to comparative law. University of Georgia Press, 1974. (Selections)

Legrand, Pierre. "Impossibility of Legal Transplants, The." Maastricht J. Eur. & Comp. L. 4 (1997): 111.


Merry, Sally Engle, and Neal A. Milner, eds. The possibility of popular justice: A case study of community mediation in the United States. University of Michigan Press, 1995. (Chapter 1)

Gordon, Robert. "Popular Justice." A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics (2007): 349-366.


Galanter, Marc. "Why the" haves" come out ahead: Speculations on the limits of legal change."Law & Society Review 9.1 (1974): 95-160.

Y. Dezalay and B. Garth, ‘Law, Lawyers and Social Capital: ‘Rule of Law’ versus Relational Capitalism,’ Social and Legal Studies: An International Journal, 1997.

Module 5: Sociology of law in South Asia


Week 10: Overview And Ethnographies of Legal pluralism and popular justice in India


Srinivas, M.N. 2004. “The Study of Disputes in an Indian Village (1959),” “A Caste Dispute among the Washermen of Mysore (1954),” “A joint family dispute in a Mysore village (1953),” and “The Case of the Potter and the Priest (1959),” The Oxford India Srinivas, New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pp. 93-99, 100-121,122-142,143-157.


Galanter, M. and Catherine S. Meschievitz, "In Search of Nyaya Panchayats: The Politics of a Moribund Institution" in R. Abel (ed.), The Politics of Informal Justice: Comparative Studies, New York: Academic Press (1982) pp. 47-77


Eckert, Julia. 2004. “Urban Governance and Emergent Forms of Legal Pluralism in Mumbai", Journal of Legal Pluralism, Nr. 50: 29-60

Galanter, Marc, and Jayanth K. Krishnan. "Debased Informalism: Lok Adalats and Legal Rights in Modem India." Beyond Common Knowledge: Empirical Approaches to the Rule of Law (2003): 96-141.


Weeks 11: Gendered lives of Indian law: Ethnographies


Mody, Perveez. The intimate state: Love-marriage and the law in Delhi. Routledge, 2008. (Selections)

Baxi, Pratiksha. Public Secrets of Law. Oxford University Press. (selections)


Chowdhry, Prem. "Private lives, state intervention: cases of runaway marriage in rural north India." Modern Asian Studies 38.1 (2004): 55-84.

Redding, Jeffrey A. "The Case of Ayesha, Muslim ‘Courts’, and the Rule of Law: Some ethnographic lessons for legal theory." Modern Asian Studies 48.04 (2014): 940-985.


Week 12: Policing and the everyday


Dhareshwar, Vivek and R. Srivatsan, “Rowdy Sheeters: An essay on Subalternity and Politics”, Subaltern Studies IX, (1996): 201-231.

Das, Veena, “The Signature of the State,” in Das & Poole(ed.), Anthropology in the Margins of the State, School of American Research Press, 2004, pp. 225-252.

Bordia, Devika, “Cultures of Policing: Panchayat-Police Practices and the Making of a Criminal Case.” In Regimes of Legality: Ethnography of Criminal Cases in South Asia(ed.) Daniela Berti and Devika Bordia, Oxford University Press, 2015



Assessment details with weightage

  • Class Presentations: 15%
  • Mid-term examination: 30%
  • Report on Fieldtrip to a Delhi Trial Court: 15%
  • End-term Examination: 30%
  • Attendance: 10%