Socio-Legal Research

Many of the Law School staff work engage in socio-legal work.

What do we mean by socio-legal studies?

In socio-legal work we consider law in the context of broader social and political theories. We look at whether and how law is implemented and enforced, at the exercise of discretion, the nature of disputes and disputing, and crime & criminal justice. By exploring law’s connections with broader social and political forces – domestic and international – we gain perspective on ideology, culture, identity and social life.

Socio-legal studies are interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary. Members of staff regularly work with colleagues from across the Faculty of Social Sciences. We are keen to consider joint supervision of doctoral students with colleagues from other parts of the University.

Socio-legal research in Bristol: past and present

The University of Bristol Law School has been at the forefront of socio-legal scholarship - particularly in the fields of administrative justice, family and crime. Beale and Dugdale’s pathbreaking article about the importance of contract law to business persons in 1976 was written when they were at Bristol. Martin Partington (now Emeritus Professor), was a founder member of the UK Socio Legal Studies Association, and developed housing law as a discipline. Gwynn Davis, also now Emeritus Professor, has been responsible for much significant empirical work in the areas of family and crime. Professor Rod Morgan, who rejoined the School in 2008 after serving as Chief Inspector of Probation and then Chair of the Youth Justice Board, has similarly led many research projects in the field of criminology and policing.

Our current academic staff includes a large number undertaking socio-legal work. Many of them have won grants from government, research councils, and charitable bodies, producing reports that have led to changes in the law or put a spotlight on the ways in which law works and breaks down in society.

We collaborate with colleagues across the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law. We have a joint appointee with Sociology, and work with colleagues from Politics, Geography, the School for Policy Studies, the Department of Social Medicine, and the ESRC Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

Members of the School of Law are represented on the editorial boards of major journals in this area; for example Social and Legal Studies, Journal of Law and Society, Law and Policy, Policy and Politics, Regulation and Governance, Economy and Society.

Our current areas of interest

Socio-legal studies capture a broad variety of approaches to the study of law and legal phenomena. Our staff draw on diverse traditions including: the sociology of law, cultural studies of law, studies of law in action, contextual legal studies, law and politics and studies of governance, and collaborate with others working in law and anthropology, and law and economics. The substantive focus may be local, national, European or global.

Areas of interest:

We are particularly keen to supervise doctoral students in these areas; but we are also interested in all areas of socio-legal endeavour. Our Masters and Doctoral degrees in Socio-legal Studies are accredited by the Economic and Social Research Council and we currently offer several four-year ESRC studentships annually.

Socio-legal research projects


South West Doctoral Training Centre

The Consortium

The Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Bath have created the South West Doctoral Training Centre (SWDTC) which draws together the established research excellence of more than 770 academic and research staff at the three institutions. The SWDTC draws together the three research intensive universities in the South West region - the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Bath. Together, these institutions present a distinctive cadre of social science research staff and students, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence. As recognised research leaders, the three institutions have a strong track record in advancing knowledge through high quality research and teaching in partnership with business, the professions, the public services, the third sector and other research and learning providers. The SWDTC has developed from a collective desire to raise the bar in postgraduate training by extending innovation and best practice across disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields, and offering students broader access to world class research and training opportunities

PhD students carrying out socio-legal research

Clair Gammage: Spontaneous Regionalism and Economic Partnership Agreements: the impact of a European trade model for Southern African development

Lydia Hayes: The value of domiciliary care work

Dan Newman: 'Another Day in Paradise' - The Everyday Reality of Criminal Defence

Tehseen Noorani: Mental Health Organisations and European Social Theory

Emma Oakley:  Policing the Missing: A Study of Police Discretion

Tanya Palmer: Sex and Sexual Violation in the Criminal law

Sarika Seshadri: Ethical Consumerism as a Brokering Mechanism in Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Governance Framework

Eleanor Staples: Who Cares? Legal and Political representations of parenting in the 21st Century.

Sarah Webber: Attentiveness, Responsibility, Competence and Responsiveness in Access to Care Services: Does Current and Future Policy and Practice "Care" for Older People?

All currently funded by the Economic and Social Research Council