New Book By Professor Barnett Examines Popular Assumptions About the Law
Web Editor - Published: September 18, 2011
The Place of Law builds on Professor Larry D. Barnett’s previous work, Legal Construct, Social Concept, which was published in 1993 and reprinted in 2010. Both books emphasize that the doctrines and concepts of law can be explained only by reference to the society in which they exist.

“Marshalling a wide array of empirical evidence,” sociologist A. Javier Trevino remarked in a prepublication review of The Place of Law, “Larry D. Barnett brilliantly makes the case for context preceding content.” Professor Barnett says of his new book, “I hope that The Place of Law will prompt questions about some currently popular assumptions regarding law.”

The Place of Law began three years ago when the editorial director at Transaction Publishers – retired Rutgers University professor Irving Louis Horowitz – read a law review article written by Professor Barnett and began to encourage him to prepare a book on the sociology of the law. “Given the esteem in which Professor Horowitz is held personally as a social scientist, his encouragement to author a book on the sociology of law was exceedingly influential. One does not lightly decline an invitation that comes from a prominent, highly regarded academic. The Place of Law is a direct result of his encouragement,” says Professor Barnett.

The book addresses two main assumptions about the role of law in society. “One of these assumptions,” Barnett points out, “is that law is very effective in regulating social behavior and, thus, in reducing social problems.” However, based on social science studies now available, Barnett concludes that law has little or no enduring effect on activities and problems that are social in nature. The second assumption is that the concepts and doctrines of law can be explained by the efforts of particular individuals, especially influential legislators and judges. Barnett, however, believes this assumption is wrong, at least for long-lasting concepts and doctrines of law in a nation such as the United States that is socially complex, technologically advanced, and democratically governed. “In the end, the needs and values of society determine the content of law,” Barnett argues, and “when law is not compatible with societal conditions, it changes.”

Barnett235The Place of Law draws upon a substantial body of empirical evidence resulting from the advances that have occurred over the past twenty years in quantitative social science research and data and in statistical techniques. Professor Barnett’s work relied on quantitative social science studies of two subjects in particular.

“One subject was whether law that seeks to regulate significant forms of social behavior has an appreciable, long-term impact on the frequency of those behaviors,” says Barnett, who, as an example, cites studies that law permitting divorce without evidence of fault did not have a permanent effect on the frequency of divorce.

“The second subject,” he continues, “was whether the content of law in a jurisdiction is markedly affected by social, economic, and demographic conditions in the jurisdiction. For instance, were the sixteen states that liberalized their law on abortion prior to Roe v. Wade different in measurable ways from the states that did not do so?” A distinct difference was found in research done by Professor Barnett.

Transaction Publishers has emphasized the social sciences since its establishment half a century ago. For more information on the book, visit Transaction Publishers.

In the accompanying video, Professor Barnett discusses the book and touches on his research and what he hopes readers will take away from it.