Sociology in Juristic Practice
Can sociological inquiries play an important role in addressing juristic issues? Are they debarred from doing so by a necessary separation of ‘is’ and ‘ought’ – by the divide between a sociological concern to understand social facts and a juristic concern to interpret and develop legal norms? This chapter argues that the fact-norm divide is not an absolute bar. Much depends on the ways in which the role of the jurist is understood. The chapter reflects in detail on some instructive past and present encounters between juristic practice and sociology, including the use of social scientific evidence in court, the sociological jurisprudence of F. S. C. Northrop, Philip Selznick’s sociology of legality, and Donald Black’s ‘sociology of the case’. It argues that, while there have been false starts, there are also many opportunities for productive interaction. Sociological inquiries cannot solve normative problems of law, but they can reveal and explain much about the contexts in which juristic problems are addressed. Importantly, they can also be used to show why these problems take the form they do, why certain kinds of juristic arguments tend to prevail over others, and what the parameters of meaningful juristic debate are likely to be in specific contexts.