Law, Gender and Ideology

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Legal Theory Meets Legal Practice. Edmonton, AB: Academic Publishing, 1988.


gender; ideology; sociology of law


In this paper, I want to explore the argument that courts are primarily ideological rather than instrumental or coercive institutions. How do courts, in interpreting 'the law' and selecting 'principles,' also identify, interpret and elaborate upon what is 'natural'? What are 'basic social values'? What are 'fundamental rights'? If the primary function of the courts is ideological, what is most important is not whether courts resolve disputes or how many disputes they process, but rather their capacity and opportunity to exert ideological influence.In my view, a consideration of the concept of ideology - a concept derived from social theory rather than legal theory - is helpful because it facilitates in-depth analysis of legal ideals, principles and doctrine, without lapsing into the position that courts are engaged only in a neutralprocess of elaboration.6 The sociological study of law is, as Roger Cotterrell argues, centrally concerned with the influence of ideas, but one must seek to understand their origins in social practices and social conditions despite the fact that many ideas about law and societyseem self-evident, universal and eternal.

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