gavelIn the interest of maintaining a diversity of topics for instructors of sociology, I spent some time this week searching through syllabi for courses in the sociology of law. I came across one in particular that I thought offered a number of interesting readings and dealt with administrative issues and overall course structure quite well. The syllabus is designed for a course called ‘Sociology of Law and Legal Institutions‘ by Daniel John Steward of Oberlin College. The syllabus is available online. [Click here]

The course uses the following books, as well as additional online materials and journal articles outlined in the syllabus itself.

Balkin, Jack M. ed. 2002. What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said: The Nation’s Top Legal Experts Rewrite America’s Landmark Civil Rights Decision. New York, NY: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-9890-X.

Friedman, Lawrence M. 2004. Law in America: A Short History. New York, NY: The Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-7285-6.

Sutton, John R. 2001. Law/Society: Origins, Interactions, and Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. ISBN 0-7619-8705-3.

Stewart articulates the following objectives for the course:

Law will be examined as an institutionalized field of contests over the rules of social life. We will open the semester with readings on the historical development of core institutions such as courts, codes, constitutions, criminals, and counsellors. With this common ground, we will then turn our attention to some of the questions and concerns that sociologists (and other law & society scholars) raise with respect to these institutions. For example: To what extent can we use changes in legal form to understand changes in social relations? How do some legal rules acquire legitimacy for members of a society—and why are other rules ignored or despised? Do legal rules (and their enforcers) inevitably serve powerful political or economic interests—or does law have some autonomy? How do legal institutions enable and constrain movements for social justice? We will consider this last question through a study of the history of racial segregation in schools and the legal and cultural significance of Brown v. Board of Education. Over the course of the semester, students will be expected to:

  • Appreciate the challenge and complexity of living in accord with a rule of law.
  • Cultivate their legal literacy by approaching legal rules and institutions from several perspectives, including those of legal professionals, active citizens, and social critics.
  • Enhance their research and writing skills through the completion of a course notebook.