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         Those Who Made the RCSL

         Jean Carbonnier



For decades, Jean Carbonnier (1908-2003) was the French sociology of law en personne. By teaching, publishing and researching he gave an academic impetus to the subject. He began teaching sociology of law first to law students in 1957 and some years later also to students in sociology. He created a Laboratory of Legal Sociology at the University Paris II, with the purpose of producing data that could help law making. This initiative was related to the drafting of the French Family Law reform, a task which at that time had been entrusted to him –he was regarded as an authority on family law – by the French Government. In 1972 he published Sociologie juridique, a comprehensive and illuminating handbook. The third edition of this work, which was published in 1994, contains an impressive amount of up-to-date additions, revealing how attentively the author was following up the recent development of the field.

On the international level, Jean Carbonnier supported the creation of the RCSL. Years later, he participated in the inauguration of the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, sharing the Opening Panel with Renato Treves and Masaji Chiba.

But his most significant contribution to the worldwide academic recognition of the discipline is undoubtedly his book Sociologie juridique, translated in many languages – except, as far as I know, in English – which has offered instrumental guidelines to those who were trying to establish Sociology of Law at their university. His main concepts – effectiveness / non-effectiveness of the law; “non-law” (non droit) ; legal pluralism, etc. – are in the first place descriptive, somehow too modest for leading to a thorough renewal of the understanding of Law in Society. But his sensitive and sensible account of the relationship between Jurisprudence and Social Sciences, and his ironical perception of the limits of Law may still help us to tackle some of most pressing epistemological and ethical issues at stake, today, at the borderline between socio-legal research and the policy of the Law.

(Source: RCSL Newsletter Winter 2004)




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