Law in Contemporary Society
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Black on the boat

-- By MinKyungLee - 05 May 2012


In his paper, "The Behavior of Law," Black adopts a sociological method to explain the behavior of law. His theory is based on a premise that law is a "quantitative variable." In this essay, I do not attempt to refute any of Black's theories but hope to discover why his theory that inversely links the quantity of law with the quantity of other forms of social control might be correct.

Black and the Behavior of Law

In "The Behavior of Law," Black theorizes law as a quantitative variable and observes its behavior through observing its quantity. Although the word "quantity," might seem like a simple numerical count of the existing laws, his conceptualization of "quantity" is complex. He states that "in criminal matters, an arrest is more law than no arrest." This statement suggests that more law does not simply mean more laws in the penal code, but more reliance or usage of laws. He also suggests that "a decision in behalf of the plaintiff is more law than a decision in behalf of the defendant." In this statement, he suggests that the quantity of law is also based on the extent of "obligation" laws poses on an individual. Therefore, in Black's terms, "more law" also measures the extent of reliance and obligation law creates in society.

In addition to law as a quantitative variable, Black points out that law is governmental social control amongst other forms of social control such as families. He then theorizes that law varies inversely with other social controls. For instance, he argues there are "more law in societies where other social control is comparatively weak." What is important to note is that his theory "predicts and explains social life without regard to the individual as such." He simply attempts to link one macro societal factor, the quantity of law, with another macro societal factor, the quantity of other forms of social control. He continuously emphasizes that his theory is not trying to refute a psychological analysis on the behavior of law, but simply is trying to suggest a "different kind of explanation, a different way to predict the facts." Therefore, I believe the introduction of a micro link to his macro analysis does not pose any challenges to his central thesis but simply adds another layer that could illuminate why there is this inverse relationship between the quantity of law and the quantity of other forms of social control.

Weber, Coleman, and the boat

Adding a micro link that connects two macro phenomena is not uncommon in sociological analysis. A famous example is Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism." Although the substance of Weber's theory is irrelevant, I think Weber's way of thinking is very pertinent to this paper. Just like Black attempts to connect one macro societal factor, the quantity of law, with another, the quantity of other social controls, Weber creates a link between one social phenomenon, protestant religious ethics, with another, the rise of the spirit of capitalism. What is different between Weber and Black is that Weber also introduces a micro-level analysis that goes into the individual psychology to connect those two macro factors. For instance, Weber theorizes that the protestant religious ethics influenced an individual's values and economic behavior and this collective individual behavior led to the rise of the spirit of capitalism. Therefore, not only does Weber conduct a macro level analysis that connects the two social phenomena, he also conducts a combination of macro and micro analysis to explain why those two social phenomena are related to one another.

Coleman conceptualized this method of analysis by creating a diagram of a boat. On the top, there are two macro factors, let's call them A and B, directly connected to each other (this is the method of analysis that Black also adopts). However, on the bottom, there are two micro factors, let's call them C and D, that also form a bridge between A and B. Therefore, there is A->B relationship as well as A(macro, top) ->C (micro, bottom)->D (micro, bottom) ->B (macro, top) relationship that goes up and down the macro and micro level of thinking.

Black on the boat

Although Black's central thesis lies solely on a macro level, I feel introducing this Weber's way of thinking that connects macro phenomena with micro factors can help us understand why there might be an inverse relationship between the quantity of law and the quantity of other forms of social control.

According to Parsons, you internalize cultural norms and values. When you have a form of social control that enforces certain norms, you internalize those values overtime. Black used family as an example of alternative social control. Let's use that example and imagine a situation where you parents constantly tell you not to lie. At first, you might lie when you think your parents are not going to catch you. However, as that form of social control continues, you internalize the norm of telling the truth. Therefore, even when you know that your parents are not going to catch you, you tell the truth or at least feel guilty about lying. As a consequence, you need less reliance on the formal means of social control such as laws to enforce the norm of honesty. In addition, if you have internalized norm of telling the truth, the additional obligation that law poses on you to be honest is low. Therefore, the more other forms of social control you have (A, macro)-> the more internalized those norms are going to be to an individual (C, micro) -> thus less law (B, macro).


In this paper, I introduced Weber's method of linking macro and micro factors to understand why Black's theory of inverse relationship might be accurate. Because social control enforces norms and individuals internalize those values, the more other forms of social control exist, the less people have to rely on laws and the less obligations laws create on individuals.

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Webs Webs

r6 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:06 - IanSullivan
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