The Making of Law: An Ethnography of the Conseil d'Etat
December 2009, Polity
What makes this study an important contribution to the social studies of law is that, because of an unprecedented access to the collective discussions of judges, Latour has been able to reconstruct in details the weaving of legal reasoning : it is clearly not the social that explains the law, but the legal ties that alter what it is to be associated together. It is thus a major contribution to Latour’s social theory since it is now possible to compare the ways legal ties build up associations with the other types of connections that he has studied in other fields of acticity. His project of an alternative interpretation of the very notion of society has never been made clearer than in this work. To reuse the title of his first book, this book is in effect the Laboratory Life of Law.
Preface to the English edition vi
1 In the shadow of Bonaparte 1
2 How to make a file ripe for use 70
3 A body in a palace 107
4 The passage of law 127
5 Scientific objects and legal objectivity 198
6 Talking of law? 244
Glossary of technical terms 278
- Bruno Latour is one of the leading sociologists in the world
- The author was give unparalleled access to this closed and
hugely important institution of the French state, the Conseil
d’Etat, and was able to carry out an in-depth study of how it
- His distinctive method – the ethnography of institutions
– will be regarded by some as a model for a new kind of
- This fascinating study takes Latour’s work in new directions, beyond the sociology of science and into the political sociology of the modern state.
"A fascinating ethnography of a highly renowned but usually
opaque French institution, and a welcome foray into the
anthropology of law."
EASA Journal of Social Anthropology
"What is legal reasoning? In this
lively ethnography, Bruno Latour examines the almost physical work
of intertextuality at the Conseil d'Etat, the French supreme
court. With his inimitable verve, he shows the
fragility and flexibility that secures the force of law."
David Stark, Columbia University
"What if our most subtle observer-theorist of socially
constructed knowledge were given total access to a secret, powerful
legal institution? The answer to this fantasy of legal scholars is
The Making of Law, Bruno Latour's brilliant account of his
philosophical fieldwork inside the French council of state. What he
finds - the alchemical refinement of legal issues to the point of a
purportedly pure legality - will be fascinating for lawyers,
comparativists, anthropologists, political scientists, and anyone
who cares about how law is made."
Noah Feldman, Harvard Law School
"A completely compelling account of the workings of French
administrative law - surely never so closely observed as here -
that joins with reflections on scientific authority to initiate
comparative anthropology 'all over again'. And we do not have to
ask where 'society' is: The Making of Law brilliantly
exemplifies the making of society."
Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge