Research Group Sociology of Law. Practices, Negotiations and Fantasies of Law

In April 2019, the Hamburg Institute of Social Research (HIS) and the Chair for Sociology of Law at the University of Bern (Prof. Tobias Eule) joined forces in order to establish a research group on the Sociology of Law at the HIS.

The research group will provide a space in which practices and ideas of law can be critically analysed in order to shed light on complex social phenomena. The aim is not to examine law for its own sake, but to use it as a “lens” to illuminate sociological questions. The group’s “sociological orientation” stands in contrast to one informed by legal dogma, and is explicitly open towards historical, anthropological, economic or legal approaches guided by corresponding epistemological goals. As such, and with an interest in furthering social theory, the group requires a solid empirical foundation, where “empirics” should neither merely illustrate certain sociological theories, nor be misunderstood as a theory-free means of data provision. Instead, an empirical sociology of law must critically evaluate the applicability of existing theoretical approaches and proceed in a theory-productive manner.

In terms of content, the research group intends to concentrate on phenomena at the margins of the state, with particular focus on practices, negotiations and fantasies about control through state regulation and domination, as well as a respective loss of control.

One advantage of applying the "lens" law to social phenomena in this context is the evocative representation of complexity, thus challenging simplified assumptions. Socio-legal research can reveal key actors, mechanisms and ideas that would otherwise remain underexposed - as has already happened in research on street level policy implementation processes, on the regulation of financial markets or on the role of informality in migration control.

Among others, the following topics are conceivable

  • ‚Lawless‘ und ‚deregulated‘ spaces in global capitalism, i.e. projects, that critically reflect complexly regulated contexts permitting and facilitating both risky forms of value creation and tax avoidance practices. (Inter-/Trans-) National law could be examined here as a productive element of global trade or exploitation relations, or as a fantastic component of globalization narratives;
  • The „sidelining“ of the state apparatus in permanent states of emergency, i.e. studies analysing to what extent the “rule of law” has been and continues to be questioned, undermined and defended, even in Western states. Instead of concentrating on extraordinary practices, the focus could be placed on “ordinary-exceptional” official or judicial practices;
  • Asymmetric negotiations of domination and resistance by people in precarious life situations, including studies on the impact of illegible structural violence, or the mobilization of justice by those affected by precariousness;
  • Approaches from the fields of social or intellectual history on the negotiation or mobilization of law, for example in relation to the creation and defense of legal traditions or the strategic use of law by social movements;
  • Digitalisation of legal practices and fields of law, e.g. through the investigation of algorithm-based police- and administrative practices or through the analysis of negotiation processes at new, digital “margins” of state rule.

Members of the Research Group Sociology of Law

Prof. Dr. Tobias Eule

Clemens Boehncke M.A.

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