The Behavior of Law

The Behavior of Law. New York: Academic Press, 1976 (soft cover edition, 1980).
Translations: Chinese, Portuguese, and Indonesian.
By Donald Black

"...brilliant...a major breakthrough..."
"...a crashing classic."
-Laura Nader, in a pre-publication review

Do not be surprised if this short and lucid book becomes the center of a raging storm in sociology. Why? Because it aims at nothing less than providing a thoroughly scientific framework for the study of law as a social phenomenon. At its heart are a number of propositions of extreme generality linking variations in law with variations in other aspects of society, such as culture, organization, or stratification. The propositions apply to variation in what is defined as illegal, who calls the police or brings a lawsuit, who wins in court, who appeals or wins a reversal, who is handled by what procedure, and - across time and place - how much law, if any, appears in social life. A revolutionary new conception of law as a quantitative variable makes the concepts of these propositions both operationalizable and quantifiable, so that the propositions will predict and explain variation in the behavior of law in any society with law, and even its absence in such stateless societies as those of the Eskimo or Bushman.

One of the most general theories ever formulated in sociology, it predicts and explains legal patterns across the world, and supports its propositions with data from anthropology and history as well as sociology. It explains many known facts about deviant behavior, but from the standpoint of the behavior of law, rather than that of the deviant person, thus complementing the usual theories of deviant behavior in sociology.

Its bold new methodology and concepts invite extension to other forms of social control, and the author shows their application to etiquette, the treatment of mental illness, the ethics of scientists, witchcraft accusations, and social control within bureaucracies. The book also outlines the nature of anarchy as a social system and, when its propositions are applied to current social trends, forecasts the eventual decline and disappearance of law as a method of social control.

To use its own unique imagery, The Behavior of Law aims at mapping out social space and showing the location and direction of law within this space. Its propositions will provide a skeleton to be fleshed out with the results of future research. It may well contain the theory that sociologists of law, and perhaps even students of sociology in general, have been waiting for; in any case, it will be studied, attacked, defended, and tested for years to come, and its concepts, methodology, and imagery are sure to engender much debate. Sociologists, Anthropologists, Political Scientists, and Lawyers concerned with understanding law will find it essential to be familiar with this book, and of all those interested in a scientific understanding of human society, many will experience a rare excitement in reading it.