The post-Soviet and Ukrainian academic traditions are accustomed to thinking about “law” and “society” as two distinct spheres of life and of inquiry. It is believed that “society” is the object of inquiry of sociology. By contrast, “law” is the object of study of jurisprudence. This divide is an outcome of a long institutional history: departments of sociology and “departments of law” have long existed as separate units. As a result, these departments speak very different languages and use incommensurable frameworks to look at and explain the world around them. Being faithful to this long-standing tradition, Ukrainian legal scholars in their academic endeavors tend to isolate “the law” from the social context: they tend to be interested in the “internal logic” of the law and not in its social lives. Similarly, Ukrainian sociologists rarely study legal phenomena, leaving these inquiries to those who are supposed to “specialize” in the study of law. These are the outcomes of a very specific academic history that was influenced by particular decisions and events that happened in the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Thus, in the Ukrainian academic tradition, the names of Ehrlich and Pashukanis have been forgotten and their heritage has been displaced by legal positivism.
Ukrainian Center for Law and Crime Research (UCLCR) aims to challenge this artificial and harmful separation of law from the social. We believe that the lives of law are always social lives: law is born, lives, and dies as part and parcel of society; it never functions as an enclosed and bounded system. To study law without taking into account its profound sociality is to be doomed to reaching faulty conclusions and to repeating the same mistakes over and over.
We believe that knowledge is gained not when one asks “What is the meaning of this legal norm according to formal logic?” but when one asks how legal norms are understood and applied by the law enforcement officers and by citizens; by protesters and by bureaucrats and politicians whom the citizens protest against. We believe that the norms-on-paper are drastically different from the norms-in-action. It is the duty of social scientists to explore the lives and transformations of legal phenomena.
No less importantly, in the post-Soviet academic tradition, the study of law is set apart from the study of the phenomenon of an offense. In Ukraine, criminology has been traditionally taught as a part of law enforcement curriculum, being a discipline tightly attached to academic institutions affiliated with the Ministry of the Interior Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office. Therefore, it was predominantly shaped by the practical goals of the law-enforcement institutions and thus devoid of social science concerns over the forces that shape the lives of crime. UCLCR rejects this tunnel vision and claims that criminology has to be in dialogue with sociology and anthropology of law. What counts as an offense is always inextricably linked to how the law behaves: what is defined as an offence is always an outcome of a complex web of relationships, structures, and ideas. In other words, what counts as legal and illegal, formal and informal, licit and illicit is never clear-cut: these spheres are often blurry as they inform, depend on, and co-create each other. In order to understand this, it is important for the Ukrainian academic tradition to break with existing classifications that constrain the research by imposing the language of simplified dichotomies and artificial oppositions.
We call for a study of law that is holistic and comprehensive and is a product of a dialogue between various fields and disciplines. Law is a complex social phenomenon and is ought to be studied as such. Building on the legacies of sociology and anthropology of law and political science, UCLCR advocates for the study of law in its social and cultural context, as a “living law.” We research law as it is lived, enacted, enforced, interpreted, and understood in the specific local contexts of Ukraine and the post-Soviet space in general. Our goal is to create a forum for discussing empirical research on law and society and popularizing this research among the academic and the general public.