Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sugarman on C.W. Brooks and the “Legal Turn” in Early Modern English History

A few years back, we were indebted to David Sugarman, Lancaster University Law School, for the sad news of Christopher W. Brooks’s death.  Now Professor Sugarman has posted an assessment of Professor Brooks’s contribution to legal history.  It is Promoting Dialogue between History and Socio-Legal Studies: The Contribution of Christopher W. Brooks and the “Legal Turn” in Early Modern English History and is out in a special issue (44: 5) of the Journal of Law & Society, entitled "Main Currents in Contemporary Sociology of Law."   Professor Sugarman dedicates the paper to the memory of another English legal historian, John Beattie.  Here is the abstract:
This paper argues that the work of socio-legal scholars and historians would benefit from greater dialogue, and from taking the social history of law itself more seriously. It points up the benefits and the difficulties that might arise from greater cross-fertilization. By way of a case study, it focuses on the ‘legal turn’ in recent history writing on early modern England, particularly, Christopher W. Brooks’s ground-breaking analysis of the nature and extent of legal consciousness throughout society, and the central role of law and legal institutions in the constitution of society. The paper critically reviews Brooks’s principal ideas and findings, the contexts within which they arose, their theoretical underpinnings, and their larger significance. It highlights Brooks’s engagement with diverse scholars, including John Baker, Marc Galanter, Jürgen Habermas, Robert W. Gordon, J.G.A. Pocock and E.P. Thompson. It is proposed that Brooks investigated both elite and popular legal consciousness on an almost unparalleled scale, adopting top-down and bottom-up approaches that revealed the trickle-up, as well as trickle-down, diffusion of legal ideas, transcending the boundaries of social, political, and legal history. More generally, the paper seeks to demonstrate that the turn to law in early modern English history has enlarged the field in terms of subject-matter, methodologies and the range of sources utilised, deepening understanding of the workings of law and its wider importance. Indicative subject areas and topics enhanced by the legal turn are outlined including: law, gender, agency and social hierarchy; legal consciousness; trust, contractual thinking, and capitalism; governance and the growth of state power; and the decline in the participation of ordinary people in the legal system, and the so-called ’vanishing trial’. The paper concludes that a convergence between history, legal history and socio-legal studies has been underway in recent decades, that it provides opportunities for greater cross-fertilization, and that this would enhance our understanding of the role of law in society, and of society. For that greater dialogue to happen there would need to be better institutional support, changes in the cultures and mind-sets of history, socio-legal studies and legal history, and greater self-reflexivity. It would also generate difficult questions and controversy as to what sort of rapport might be appropriate, when, how and to what effect

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