Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism
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Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism

Edited by Shauhin Talesh, Elizabeth Mertz and Heinz Klug

This insightful Research Handbook provides a definitive overview of the New Legal Realism (NLR) movement, reaching beyond historical and national boundaries to form new conversations. Drawing on deep roots within the law-and-society tradition, it demonstrates the powerful virtues of new legal realist research and its attention to the challenges of translation between social science and law. It explores an impressive range of contemporary issues including immigration, policing, globalization, legal education, and access to justice, concluding with and examination of how different social science disciplines intersect with NLR.
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Chapter 17: The uses and abuses of global social indicators

David Nelken and Mathias Siems


The chapter aims to show why the uses and abuses of global social indicators is a topic well suited to research guided by the new legal realism. Social indicators are ubiquitous as a form of social intervention designed to measure and monitor a variety of key social issues – whether it be levels of business friendliness, corruption or human trafficking, respect for the rule of law and free speech, or compliance with codes of corporate responsibility. But indicators do not only provide information, they also exert authority and so need to be better understood as an example of the normative uses of quantification. The chapter first defines indicators, distinguishes kinds of indicators, relates them to other kinds of normative regulation and discusses how they are used. It then examines what abuse of indicators could mean, highlights the many problems with making, implementing and interpreting them, and revisits what are called their knowledge and governance “effects”. It concludes by considering the possibilities for re-forming indicators by drawing on resources from the market, science, politics and law.

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