Sociology Seminar Series - Law before the state: the possibilities and challenges of comparison

If the state is taken out of the equation, how and where should we identify laws and legal systems? Do all communities have laws, as the basis for maintaining order and resolving conflict, or is law a distinct technique for doing these things?

In this presentation I argue for a focus on legalism, that is, the simple yet powerful technique of creating explicit and general rules, which can be applied to whole classes of people and events. This distinguishes the legal from the non-legal, in a way that allows us to compare widely across time and space. We can trace the origins of law to three separate developments in Mesopotamia, India, and China, where different people were pursuing quite different objectives. Comparisons amongst them highlight the different social dynamics made possible by the use of such laws and legalistic techniques and the goals of justice, duty, and discipline pursued by the early lawmakers. It is the achievement of the modern state and its law, I suggest, to have combined these dynamics into powerful and effective systems, but these forms of law are neither inevitable nor perfect. – Professor Fernanda Pirie

Please email to be sent a link to join the online seminar via Teams.