by Mathieu Deflem. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 358 pp. Hardback. £55.00/ $99.00. ISBN: 9780521857253. Paper. £19.99/$39.99. ISBN: 9780521673921. eBook format. $32.00. ISBN: 9780511380112.

Reviewed by Dante Gatmaytan-Magno, University of the Philippines, College of Law. Email: dante.gatmaytan [at]


Mathieu Deflem, an Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina’s Department of Sociology, has written not only a valuable contribution to the literature on the sociology of law, he crafted a comprehensive and compelling guide on the subject. Deflem’s SOCIOLOGY OF LAW presents a discussion – not an exposition – of important theoretical problems and concerns that define the boundaries of this field of specialization. In this effort, Deflem applies his expertise and meticulous research to construct a thorough treatise on the sociology of law.

The book sets itself apart from existing works by providing a “comprehensive discussion of important theoretical and institutional history of the sociology of law” (p.14). Deflem reviews historical developments to contextualize the manner in which sociologists study the structures and processes of law and law-related phenomena. The book examines classic works in the sociology of law, modern and contemporary theoretical perspectives, the place and role of law in relation to other important social institutions, including economy, politics, culture, and social structure, and selected problems in relation to enforcement of law and its globalization.

The book goes beyond a list of theories and themes in the sociology of law to present “an integrated discussion in order to reconstruct a model of the sociology of law that takes into account the more or less fruitful paths that sociologists have taken since the origins of the discipline” (p.14). Deflem does not take sides in the debates within the discipline, but he points out how these issues and dilemmas contributed to the development of the sociology of law.

The book both considers the trajectory of law and sociology as a specialized discipline and examines the complex nature of this journey while making pointed comments to provide readers with a better understanding of the way the field developed. The journey begins by paying tribute to the minds that helped build the foundation for the field. Deflem dedicates two chapters to the works of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim – pillars of the sociology of law – and addresses the various responses and criticisms that their works generated, presenting a picture of contested views and open debates. Deflem also identifies the differences in the contributions made by both Weber and Durkheim: Weber’s work focused on “the interplay between a mixture of political, economic, cultural, and other societal forces,” while Durkheim gave primacy to cultural influences. These [*999] approaches explain the inconsistency in their views on the role of the law.

In the next chapters, Deflem contrasts the development of sociology in Europe and the United States. In Chapter 4, he observes that “the early days of sociological thinking on law outside the classics was essentially marked by a theoretical move towards the development of the sociology of law as a specialty area from within scientifically inclined currents in jurisprudence” (p.93). In Chapter 5, he reports that the sociology of law grew out of the professional law schools, not directly out of classical sociology. The author speaks at length on how Oliver Wendell Holmes triggered a turn in legal scholarship towards sociological jurisprudence, which was later systematized by Roscoe Pound (p.115).

The book then presents an overview of the main theoretical perspectives in the modern sociology of law and applies them to a series of substantive social issues. Deflem explains, for example, how sociological perspectives – such as institutionalism – can be used to explain the regulation of the market. He also points out how sociological research – by drawing on the works of Jürgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann – addresses issues of democracy and law.

Deflem’s study also examines the evolution of the legal profession, citing literature that addresses initial attempts to organize the profession and its preoccupation with occupational autonomy. He also discusses the emergence of the Critical Legal Studies movement, through which members of the profession criticize and attempt to shape the profession.

In the study of law, Deflem discusses how postmodernism and deconstruction have influenced scholarship on law by exposing inequalities in class, gender and race relations. These perspectives have triggered assessment of “discrimination and inequality in and through law” (p.210). He discusses the literature on laws that regulate intimate aspects of life, particularly euthanasia, same-sex marriages, and abortion (pp.217-222).

Sociology has also contributed significantly to the study of social control. Here Deflem discussed how Foucault inspired revisionist approaches to social control that go beyond law to focus on technologies of control. Indeed, recent research makes significant contributions to the literature on policing, surveillance, and sentencing and punishment.

The book ends by showing how the sociology of law has kept pace with new social, political, and economic developments. Deflem cites a growing literature on the globalization of law that addresses “the entire range of legal processes, extending from the creation of global norms over their administration in the courts and through other means of resolution, including the activities of legal professionals, to the global dimensions of enforcement and social control” (p.255). Deflem also notes recent literature on the creation and enforcement of global norms for issues such as female genital mutilation, legal bankruptcy reform, international lawyering, and the creation of international criminal courts. [*1000]

Deflem makes two key observations in his work. The first is that the institutionalization of the sociology of law was brought about in part through the efforts of leading figures, such as Max Weber. The second is that the sociology of law typically evolved from outside sociology – from the legal sciences. This peculiar development continues to plague the sociology of law with questions about its legitimacy as an academic discipline.

SOCIOLOGY OF LAW is not an easy read; the language is heavily academic, and it assumes some level of familiarity with the literature and scholars with whom many readers are unlikely to be familiar. But Mathieu Deflem’s book, as explained earlier, is not a textbook, but a single-volume reference on everything regarding law and sociology. There is a massive number of references that is thankfully clustered in footnotes and the bibliography that helps make this book accessible to both novice and expert.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, Dante Gatmaytan-Magno.

Sociology of Law: Visions of a Scholarly Tradition