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Socio-legal studies: an introduction to collections

Socio-legal studies is an interdisciplinary approach to analysing law, legal phenomena, and relationships between these and wider society. Both theoretical and empirical work is included, and perspectives and methodologies are drawn from the humanities as well as the social sciences.

The socio-legal approach may be seen to occupy space between two extremes of a methodological spectrum. At one end, a strict doctrinal approach relies predominantly on self informed analysis of legislation and judicial decisions from the superior courts.

Approaches at the other end, such as critical legal studies and economic analysis of law, are tuned to the concerns, theory and informants of external perspectives. While contextual analysis is increasingly the norm in legal scholarship, (see law and legal studies for general law resources) external informants are essential to a socio-legal approach. The socio-legal lens widens to observe operational and everyday legal situations, and diverse textual sources, disciplinary and cultural perspectives are considered. Close parallels can be drawn with interdisciplinary literatures of the 'Law And' project (U.S.).

Collection overview

The British Library's encyclopaedic disciplinary range of research literatures extends beyond English language publishing. Archival and manuscript materials, globally sourced official publications and report literatures (see below), conference proceedings, PhD theses and the UK Web Archive also offer much for socio-legal researchers. This material may be explored using finding aids (see below), and requested for reading room use. A significant range of resources can also be obtained via our Document Supply Service.

The Library's journals and text books include sociological jurisprudence and interdisciplinary legal scholarship, original and translated works of key social theorists, and the general literatures of disciplines that meet at the socio-legal nexus. Disciplines covered include sociology, anthropology, criminology, psychology, philosophy (including philosophy of social science), linguistics, management, public administration and policy, social welfare, education, political science, economics, history, religion and literary criticism.

Some other highlights include:

  • Browse-able shelves in the Social Science Reading Room include social research methods and statistics, bibliography, research handbooks and encyclopaedias for interdisciplinary legal studies, legal reference materials, and official publications guides, and a selection of recent social science and law text books and journals.
  • Electronic resources: numerous subscribed resources are freely available in the reading rooms. These include full text and discovery databases research literatures and primary resources.
  • Manuscript and Archival: sources (original and facsimile) include political and judicial papers, oral histories in law, theatre censorship, social policy and justice in India before independence.
  • Official Publications from domestic governments and inter-governmental organisations include policy proposals and scrutiny, parliamentary, statistical, administrative, and investigative inquiry reports, preparatory, primary and secondary legislation, and selective law reports.

Finding aids

  • Integrated Catalogue: use the Integrated Catalogue to find details of books, reports, journal titles, newspapers, maps and many more parts of the Library’s collections.
  • Other Catalogues: oral histories, political, administrative and private papers, are among the resources that are discoverable with the help of tools such as sound archive, manuscript and microfilm research collection catalogues.
  • Help for Researchers pages include collection description, signposting and access guidance by subject, region, language and resource type including: social sciences guides and bibliographies, oral history, and the arrangement of India Office Records.

Social Sciences Enquiry Team

For more help on using the social sciences collections, contact the Enquiry Team:

Tel: +44(0)20 7412 7676 (from 10.00-20.00 Mon-Thu or 10.00-17.00 Friday)


Current activities

Social Science events at the British Library

Find out about recent and forthcoming seminars.

British Library content strategy and researcher engagement

Further to our content strategy we are embarking on an engagement programme that seeks to understand more about socio-legal researchers' information needs and their experiences of using the British Library and other collections and resources.

If you are interested in participating, or have comments on the Library's content strategy please contact:

Jonathan Sims
Content Specialist: Law and Socio-Legal Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7676