Is law the rule? Using political frames to explain cross-national variation in legal activity

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Across democratic countries, amounts of individualistic legal activity are starkly different. The current trend in explaining this variation is to break legal activity into different categories and explain why variation exists within each type. While this trend has been useful in providing detailed analyses across a narrow spectrum of activities, it moves the field away from the broader context in which all legal activity occurs. I take the opposite tack here, considering myriad types of legal activity at once. This study first finds that across nation-states, levels of many different types of legal activity are correlated with each other. Using a structural equation model and OLS regression equations, I then demonstrate that state decentralization and state/society interpenetration, i.e., the lack of a clear boundary between the state and civil society, tend to fuel individualistic legal activity. The implication is that changing individual incentives to engage in legal activity may fuel social change in some national contexts but not others, and that such contextual effects are predictable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1195-1226
Number of pages32
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2000


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