- Research Handbooks in Comparative Law series
Edited by David S. Clark
Chapter 2: Comparative Sociology of Law
Roger Cotterrell* 1 1.1 INTRODUCTION The Scope of Comparison Comparison seems basic to understanding. Deciding what is similar or different as between two or more things makes it possible to give them identity within a larger framework; to recognise their particular place in an environment of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Comparing happens all the time, but often unsystematically—by observing, recognising and differentiating impressionistically. Sometimes comparison is a way of seeking similarity. To find that something newly discovered is, in important respects, the same as what one already knows can be very reassuring. It affirms knowledge already possessed, suggesting that that knowledge has a wider application than had previously been realised. Comparison undertaken for this purpose tends to validate existing understandings. There might even be an incentive to work towards removing remaining perceived differences and emphasising commonalities. The tendency may be to see apparent differences as superficial, temporary or based on misunderstandings that can be removed.1 However, sometimes the aim of comparison is to appreciate difference, to value it specially, because it can be salutary to realise that things—for example, legal and social ideas and arrangements—do not have to take the forms that are already familiar to the observer. In appreciating difference, it becomes possible to see that the world and its experiences can be ordered and understood in many different ways. Familiar ways are not necessarily confirmed as the best. One can learn from others, or just see that ‘the best’ may be relative to time...
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