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A Sociology of Jurisprudence

Richard Nobles, David Schiff
Hart Publishing (February 2006)

Niklas Luhmann's sociological theory treats law, along with politics, economics, media and ethics, as systems of communication. His theory not only offers profound and novel insights into the character of the legal system in modern society, but also provides an explanation for the role of jurisprudence as part of that legal system. Whilst Luhmann's own writings are often difficult to understand, this book presents an accessible introduction to them. In addition, the authors seek to explore and develop Luhmann's claim that jurisprudence is part of law's self-description. ie. not a critique of or commentary on the legal system itself; a particular kind of legal communication that orientates legal operations by explaining law to itself.

This approach has the potential to illuminate many of the interminable debates amongst and between different schools of jurisprudence on topics such as the origin and/or source of law, the nature of law's determinacy or indeterminacy, and the role of justice. The authors' introduction to Luhmann's systems theory concentrates on one of its most central and misunderstood concepts: that of law's closure and, which is the same thing, the distinct disposition of law's openness to its environment (the physical world and all other kinds of communication). From this beginning, the book goes on to offer a sustained and methodical application of systems theory to some of the traditional forms of jurisprudence: natural law and its relationship with legal positivism, Dworkin's version of natural law, Kelsen's version of legal positivism, and Critical Legal Studies. This application of systems theory alters our perception of jurisprudence into a form that is appropriate to our understanding of its role within law in contemporary society.

Richard Nobles and David Schiff, both readers in law at LSE, have written together extensively on criminal justice and jurisprudence. Much of their recent work is informed by the sociological theory of Niklas Luhmann. They edited and wrote the Introduction to the English translation of Luhmann's Law as a Social System. With J.E. Penner, they are the editors and principal authors of Jurisprudence and Legal Theory: commentary and materials.

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