Vol. 5 No. 9 (September, 1995) pp. 228-230
THE LAW AND SOCIETY READER by Richard L. Abel (editor). New York: New York University Press, 1995. 450 pp. Cloth $55.00. Paper $20.00.
Reviewed by Samuel Krislov, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota
When the Law and Society Association was in its infancy, the trustees would meet in someone's hotel room at someone else's convention. I went to economics, psychology, sociology and anthropology meetings that way. Our perennial subjects at our cuckoo's nest deliberations were raising money and keeping the Law & Society Review going. We had perpetual differences with our amiable publisher, a clash of two cultures. Ultimately, the publishers proposed taking over the review guaranteeing very generous terms. They apparently thought they had made an offer no sensible individual would refuse. But to a person the trustees agreed that the review was our primary responsibility, that financial risk was unimportant, that the review was the road to any viable organizational future. And so it proved to be.
When I was asked to review Abel s Law and Society reader, I assumed I would be taking a walk through memory lane, reliving some of those early years and the evolution of The Review since then. Alas, that is not to be, for the reader is a different kind of volume. There are, of course, myriad strategies of selection from thirty years of a rich and variegated journal. Abel's strategy has not been to select landmark articles for their own sake, but rather to assemble a highly useful and surprisingly well integrated classroom volume developing a small set of themes through generous abridgment of eighteen articles culled from the review. An introduction and discussion questions are added as apparatus to help integrate the volume. The themes chosen by Abel are:
1. "Disputing" with four articles dealing with the nature of disputes, perceptions by participants, and the macro uses of law;
2. "Social Control" with another four pieces on punishment and control mechanisms;
3. "Norm Creation" with one piece on criminal and another dealing with civil processes;
4. "Regulation" with pieces on organizational buttressing of court decisions;
5. "Equality" including race and gender considerations and Marc Galanter s "Why the Haves Came Out Ahead," probably the most celebrated piece in Review history;
6. "Ideas and Consciousness;"
7. "The legal profession."
The topics and the selections reflect rather personal approaches. The editing is generous and largely catholic in taste and done in collaboration with, and the permission of the primary authors so that the selections convey the originals extremely well. However, Abel clearly preferred articles featuring on the one hand individual level anthropological and psychological foci and on
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the other system-wide social inferences, as would be expected by those familiar with his training, work, and commitments.
Even with articles involving "middle-range social mechanisms and with an empirical focus, Abel has, as noted in his introductory comments, drastically or completely eliminated graphs and tables except in the article by Radelet and Pierce on race discrimination in prosecution where inclusion of evidence was of course unavoidable. The result is a volume heavy in "neo-ethnographic" method with lots of carefully manicured quotes, including frequent "uh's", "yeah's ' and "ok s" but devoid of solid evidence. Those of us of the "for instance is not proof school" of law and society will not be totally happy with this volume as a teaching tool, but its $20 price makes it a great candidate for supplementation with other volumes and/or reprinted articles of a quantitative sort.
Political scientists will require especially strong supplementation, for many of our standard topics are omitted. In a provocative introduction, Abel indicates he is interested in all aspects of the law except those involving rules. This paradoxical approach extends to court structures and formal (and to a large extent informal) relationships among the official participants in the legal system. Judicial selection and indeed career lines of such officials is not covered, nor is any of the literature on decision-making. Some of those gaps flow from the work's core orientation, some an obvious product of a desire to keep down the size of the volume to reasonable proportions.
There are other costs to the decision to go for classroom use as well. The majority of articles are from the period of 1986-1990. Galanter's 1975 article is the earliest one chosen, so that relatively current material is proffered. As a result, many classic articles like Friedman's "A Tale of Two Counties," "Blumberg's "The Practice of Law as a Confidence Game," or Massel's less celebrated article on Social Control in Mongolian Russia are not represented. Nor are some themes characteristically associated with the review even mentioned. For example the historical evolution of legal issues (a literature developed out of discussion of Friedman's work), the case-load and social conditions literature, the compliance with court decisions literature are just some topics not represented here. Of course, more coverage would weaken the coherence which is the reader's greatest asset.
Only with respect to the selection on community control do I feel that an obviously stronger article would easily have been found in the pages of the Review. In two other instances I suspect that coverage of an article won a marginal decision over quality. As to the rest it is obvious that when Abel with his own strong contributions to the study of the legal profession felt he could only print one piece on that topic (albeit a fine contribution by Sarat and Felstiner) we get a glimpse of the restraints imposed by this kind of project.
One thing Abel manages well and it conforms with his personal exhortations is to make the volume multi-cultural. About a third of the material is non-U.S.-focused. Apparently he was not able to find much suitable for this volume on Africa which no
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doubt reflects weaknesses of the review and our crowd, rather than his own training and concerns.
This volume represents a very considerable contribution to classroom teaching particularly at the advanced and graduate levels. There has been a slowing down of the publication of such volumes in recent years and many such efforts have gone out of print. It is therefore doubly welcome especially at so reasonable a cost in the paperback form.
In some ways this is a less valuable work for scholars than some of the early volumes on law and society with only eighteen contributions and a lot of space devoted to didactic purposes, but it is also unusually faithful in its editing (except as noted on the empirical evidence dimension) and therefore may prove useful to those who wish to gain a first impression of whole studies rather than snippets dealing with culled arguments and particularized details. It was obviously a labor of love and the NYU press, the Law and Society Association, the contributors and above all Rick Abel have all obviously extended themselves unselfishly to make it possible.