One of the great ironies in contemporary sociology of law is that despite Talcott Parsons's enormously influential role as "the midwife of modern sociology," coupled with his three decades of focused and sustained analysis of the legal system's location in a total and complex society, it is nothing short of appalling that his particular social systems approach to law has been largely neglected. Indeed, although Parsons made only cursory mention of law in some of his best-known works, he extensively discussed the role of the legal system in no less than five important papers and two somewhat lengthy book reviews. What is more, in the two slim paperbacks where Parsons applies his cybernetic systems theory in explaining the progression from premodern to modern societies, he considers law to be an essential element in the analysis of just about every society under consideration: ancient Egypt and the Mesopotamian empires; China, India, and the Islamic empires; the Roman empire; Israel and Greece; medieval Western Christendom; the United States. This volume, the first of its kind, is the most complete articulation of Parsons's treatment of the U.S. legal system's nature and function during the late-twentieth century.
In addition to a lengthy Introduction by the editor, the book consists of 26 readings, taken from the full range of Parsons's books and papers, which, in toto, render a detailed analytical roadmap that can today guide much of our sociological thinking concerning such contemporary social issues related to law as citizenship, trust, and governmentality. More than this, Parsons's writings on the courts and the legal profession-both of which he believed to constitute the core of an integrative U.S. citizenry-can inform policy-makers' decisions concerning such controversial issues as immigration, civil rights, and legal ethics.
A. Javier Trevino is Professor of Sociology at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, U.S.A. He is the author and editor of several books including, The Sociology of Law: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives (St. Martin's, 1996), Talcott Parsons Today: His Theory and Legacy in Contemporary Sociology (Rowman & Littlefeld, 2001), Classic Writings in Law and Society: Contemporary Comments and Criticisms (Transaction, 2006). He is past president of the Justice Studies Association and serves general editor of the Law & Society series, Transaction Publishers.