The Study of Law


Law is the body of rules and principles that a society or community recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. In general, these are enforced by a central authority that controls all aspects of the system. Laws govern everything from human rights to the structure of a business, and are the basis for all political and economic systems. The study of law encompasses many fields, including constitutional law, criminal law, family law, civil and international law.

Law reflects the culture of a society, but is also shaped by it. For example, the idea that laws should be based on equality is one of the core concepts of Western civil law, while a law based on privileges would be typical of an Asian legal tradition.

The study of law is a highly complex and multifaceted discipline. Oxford Reference offers expert-authored entries covering a wide range of topics, from key terms and definitions to complex arguments and debates in law. Our articles are written by trusted experts for researchers at every level.

The Law in History

The development of law is a key issue in the history of human societies, influenced by cultural, religious and political developments. The rise of law is closely linked to the rise of the state, as it enables a central authority to regulate, control and direct all parts of a society.

In the Middle Ages, law began to become a focus of attention and concern as the concept of human rights was developed. This concept emphasized the need for people to have an equal status in society and was opposed by some scholars.

Lawmaking became increasingly important as the focus of politics shifted toward consolidation and peacekeeping in the territorial state, the reduction of privileges, and the centralization of administrative structures. The idea of law as an expression of the concept of justice also grew in importance, although many thinkers saw this as a dangerous and unstable direction for the power of a political community.

With the advent of industrialization and urbanization, the law became more specialized and divided into fields such as constitutional law, civil law, and criminal law. The growth of the law as an institution also contributed to a greater emphasis on judicial review and the development of the rule of law.

The development of law is still continuing today. Modern societies are attempting to balance the competing demands of globalization and the need to protect the social fabric while addressing economic inequality and providing citizens with basic security. These challenges call for a new form of democracy that is more responsive to changing conditions and more effective in protecting the rights of individuals. This will require a greater level of transparency in government practices, improved mechanisms for citizen participation, and increased scrutiny of legislative decisions. It will also require new approaches to policy making, such as collaborative governance and policy design. The future of the law will depend on its ability to keep pace with the demands of the modern world.