In his book on “The Behavior of Law” Donald Black attempts to describe and explain the conduct of law as a social phenomenon. His theory of law does not consider the purpose, value, impact of law, neither proposes any kind of solutions, guidance or judgment; it plainly ponders on the behavior of law. The author grounds his theory purely on sociology and excludes the psychology of the individual from his assumptions on the behavior of law (Black 7).
The theory of law comes to the same outcome as other theories scrutinizing the legal environment, such as deprivation theory or criminal theory; however, the former concentrates on the patterns of behavior of law, not involving the motivation of an individual as such. In this respect, Black’s theory is blind for social life, which is beyond the behavior of law. Law, “a governmental social control” (Black 2), is a quantitative variable that changes in time and space and can be defined by style: penal, compensatory, therapeutic or conciliatory (Black 5).
The brief description of law and its interrelation with social control and deviant behavior can be encapsulated in the following scheme. This concept of law put into the context of social life gives a framework of the behavior of law. Donald Black breaks social life into several variables, such as stratification, morphology, culture, organization and social control. All these aspects are quantitative variables in time, space and across the settings.
In contemporary social life they intertwine between each other and relate to law and deviant behavior. According to Black’s definition, stratification is “the vertical aspect of social life”, “any uneven distribution of the material conditions of existence” (Black 11), in other words the discrimination of wealth. Stratification can be measured in quantity, delineated in style and viewed from two perspectives, as a “magnitude of difference in wealth” (Black 11) and as the level to which the setting is stratified.
Moreover, stratification explains not only law, its quantity and style, but also other aspects of social life. The relationship Black is mostly interested in is the positive correlation between stratification and law, meaning the more law, the more stratified the setting is. When utilizing this proposition by inserting other variables of social life, such as etiquette or privacy, the quantity and style of law in a given context is predictable and explainable.
Another central variable of social life is morphology, the allocation of people in comparison to each other. It also has dimensions such as differentiation and intimacy, which can be connected in the same way as stratification to the behavior of law, however, resulting in the curvilinear correlation (Black 39). The more law, the more differentiation and intimacy exists in a setting; however, this positive correlation continues until there is some kind of interdependency between people, at the point of symbiosis law reaches its peak and starts decreasing.
Black discovers many other similar correlations, establishing a chain of reasoning on the behavior of law worldwide, in different time lines and across different settings. Donald Black follows similar reasoning when analyzing other dimensions of social life, the symbolical aspect of culture and the corporate aspect of organization. The interrelationship between culture and law as well as organization and law results in positive correlation. More educated and/or literate people are more litigious than people having less cultural background.
Analogously, the more organized institution is, the more litigious it is. Subsequently, these assumptions have an impact on deviant behavior, the less culture people have, the more likely their behavior will be deviant, the more likely they will be exposed to the law and the more painful legal process they will undergo. Same as, the more centralized organization is, the less likely it will deviate. The last social variable, according to Donald Black, is social control, the normative aspect.
It responds and defines who is deviant and who is respectable. Negative correlation describes the relationship between law and social control, the more law is in a setting, the less of alternative means of social control persist in a setting. Following Donald Black’s grounding one can distinguish clear patterns and conditions of his theory. He reduces the social life into five extensive blocks, five variables constituting from a number of other sub aspects and traces the behavior of law while these variables change.
He points out that all central aspects of social life ? stratification, morphology, culture, organization and social control ? vary “in time and space” (Black 10), their quantity differs in relation when and where the setting is. Therefore, the behavior of law, its quantity and style, alters accordingly. Black’s theory in some respect reminds the mathematical formula, which has the condition, unknown and variables. His formulas are propositions, which are true with the condition that all else is constant.
By inserting the variables the interdependency is evident, in each case describing the behavior of law and deviant behavior, which is subject to it. In other words, Black comes up with the law formula, which can account for different aspects of social life. The simplicity of implementation ends up in a transparent theory of law from the sociological standpoint. This approach has certain limitations as any other formula has. The propositions work when all else is constant, meaning all other variables are unchanging; however, the aspects of social life are called variables for their tendency to vary.
In a given setting, several variables, say differentiation, etiquette, subculture and privacy, may be affected simultaneously giving an extremely complex picture of the situation. The propositions would magnify in a given context, raising questions and answering them would create an extremely complicated model of interrelationship of social aspects, which actually exists in real life, hard to understand and follow. Therefore, theory would loose its simplicity.
The craft of Donald Black is the ability to generalize the behavior of law up to a global dimension and create a simplified model of interdependency. He creates a theory that is easy to read, understand and imply in any kind of setting, but it remains a formula of law, on one hand, it is complete as it discusses all the major issues of social life and on the other hand, it is insufficient as it outlines only the interrelationship. On one hand, it is flexible as it works with all the variables, on the other hand, its rigid framework does not allow moving any further than the behavior of law.
At this point one can distinguish Black’s tendency to unite the opposites, especially evident in his concluding paragraph stating that if all the trends continue, humans are in the advent of a new society, which will be “at once close and distant, homogenous and diverse, organized and autonomous, where reputations and other statuses fluctuate from one day to the next” (Black 133). The author predicts the future of law, its quantity and style as the meteorologist predicts the weather, observing the environment and making conclusions.
Donald Black proposes a framework for the behavior of law from the social perspective, considering law per se, not involving the psychology of human behavior. As any generalizations, Black’s propositions are abstract, but if one inserts realism into them, their ability to predict will diminish. Explaining all of the aspects of social behavior, Black arrives at the predispositions to deviant behavior, providing a reduced and generalized model on functioning of law, specifically outlined and organized. Works Cited Black, Donald. The Behavior of Law. Academic Press, Inc. 1976.