W. Gephart: “Legal Culture as a Cultural-Sociological Concept and Analytical Program”

At Soziologentag (Sociologists’ Day) in Bamberg, Germany, Werner Gephart will speak about “Legal Culture as a Cultural-Sociological Concept and Analytical Program” as part of the section on cultural society, which is dedicated to the topic of “legal culture.”  

The seemingly vague concept of “legal culture,” as occasionally used in legal studies and comparative legal research, can certainly provide a precise cultural-sociological meaning. This requires continuing to discover the law as a cultural phenomenon. Namely, once the cultural dimension of the law regarding symbolic dynamics and ritual effects of normative order (à la Durkheim) is captured, a new perspective on the law opens: The formation of identity as well as collective memory tread beside a peace-securing and integrative function of the law that solidifies itself in a “force du droit” (Bourdieu). Simultaneously, the borders of an occidentally-shaped concept of law, which amount to nothing more than the concept’s power to validate its normative order, its “deontic power,” (Searle) grow porous. Pursuing these powers of the law in a synchronized and diachronic direction allows for an understanding of “legal culture” that heralds in a research project at the same time, which – in the sense of Daniel Defores – is, in principal, interminable.    In Weber’s description of the Sea of Endless Legal History (Meer unendlicher Rechtsgeschichten) (MWG I/22-3), islands always appear which can be understood as legal culture’s consolidation of normative order.

Even this use of metaphors, which occurs in the face of invisibility during the simultaneous ubiquity of the law, challenges cultural-sociological educational work.