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Rethinking Socio-Legal Research: Law, Morality and Justice in Late Modernity

One decade into the twenty-first century, socio-legal research is beginning to face the challenges of late modernity; challenges which can, arguably, be met by devising a new conception of the interrelationship between law and society. The realisation is dawning that modernity has moved into a new phase, where the foundations and the structural make-up of industrial society is transformed, paving the way for the emergence of radical forms of social organisation. Social theorists and sociologists have been debating the consequences of late modernity since the early 1990s and issues related to the development of modernity have also been explored by socio-legal scholars interested in law and globalisation. However, the socio-legal debate on globalisation has mainly focused on the formation of law and legal practice at the transnational level and, thus, paid insufficient attention to how societies are transformed institutionally from within as the result of the intensification of international economic relationships and socio-cultural exchanges.

This lecture examines how social institutions, such as law, polity and economy, operate under late modern conditions, while reflecting on the implications of late modernity for socio-legal research. Do we need new methodological tools to describe and analyse these recent developments, or can we continue to rely on the theoretical insights and methods of inquiry, which were developed at the turn of the previous century? The lecture starts by briefly tracing the roots of socio-legal research back to the interdisciplinary labours of legal sociologists of the turn of the previous century. It then goes on to discuss the transformation of modernity, asking what late modernity means for the relationship between law and society. The talk ends by reflecting on the need for new methodological tools for the study of the changing character of contemporary law and society.

Reza Banakar was born in Shiraz in southern Iran, attended school in Shrewsbury during the 1970s, and went on to study for a degree in applied mathematics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. At the beginning of the 1980s, he moved to Sweden, where he studied law, sociology and philosophy at Lund University. There, he also obtained his doctorate in the sociology of law and taught various socio-legal subjects between 1988 and 1997. In 1997, he moved to the University of Oxford to take up the Paul Dodyk Research Fellowship at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (then based at Wolfson College). During this time, he also served as a Senior Research Fellow in Law at Harris Manchester College, occasionally taught on the Masters programme at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati (Spain) and served on the Institute’s governing body. Since 2002, he has been at the School of Law at the University of Westminster. His research is within the areas of law and social theory, socio-legal methodology, legal cultures, ethnic discrimination, law and literature, and rights. Among his publications are Merging Law and Sociology: Beyond the Dichotomies in Socio-Legal Research (Berlin/Wisconsin, Galda & Wilch, 2003) and Theory and Method in Socio-Legal Research, co-edited with Max Travers (Oxford, Hart, 2005). His latest book, an edited collection entitled Rights in Context: Law and Justice in Late Modern Society, is to be published by Ashgate in August 2010.

Admission is free - all welcome.

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