A focus on law’s role in economic activities was central to many of the classical sociologists, and it remains a key theme in the sociology of law, although no longer central. This chapter begins by considering how the view of capitalism as a market economy is reflected in formalist perspectives on economics, law and even sociology, and the limitations of these understandings. The second section describes the extensive institutionalisation of economic activity due to the shift to corporate capitalism since the last part of the 19th century, and the increasing attention from economic sociologists and institutional economists to law’s role in these processes. The third section discusses the neo-liberal phase since the 1970s, with a renewed emphasis on property rights and market-based management, but accompanied by an enormous growth of new forms of regulation, often of a hybrid public-private character, leading to a new view of law as reflective or responsive. The final section argues that law’s role in the economy can be better understood by examining the social processes of lawyering, mediating between the realms of political and economic power, through practices of legal interpretation that both reflect and shape economic activity.
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