Legal concepts in flux

The social construction of legal meaning

Authored by: Maayan Ravid , Alice Schneider

Routledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138592902
eBook ISBN: 9780429952814
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780429952814-18

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Abstract

Doctrinal – or, as socio-legal scholars refer to it, ‘black-letter law’ – is subject to change over time. In modern legal systems, such changes in the content of legal norms usually occur through officially institutionalised processes such as parliamentary legislation or adjudication. However, even without such officially mandated amendments, the content of law may change in subtle ways: meanings of legal concepts are susceptible to change through discourse across time and space. This chapter posits that such more subtle and covert changes in legal meaning are a part of the phenomenon of legal change that warrants the attention of socio-legal scholars. In particular, we argue that the collective attribution of meaning to concepts in the legal sphere is a process of social construction that is tied up with knowledge and power. To capture this dimension of power – that is, to draw out which actors, motives, values, or norms dominate the attribution of legal meaning – we introduce discourse analysis as a useful method. The chapter features an exemplary case study of empirical socio-legal research that follows legal change over time, through the analysis of legal discourse in Israel.

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