Law and Society



Law is rooted in social institutions, in socio-economic network. These social factors influence the course of law or the direction of legal change. This is the outcome of personal and social interactions which are variable and often unpredictable. At the same time, law may itself change social norms in various ways.

For example, in free India, legal abolition of untouchability is an attempt to change a long-standing social norm. Yet it has not succeeded much due to inadequate social support. Thus there is a reciprocal relationship between law and society.

This article will discuss about the law and its impact in social change with special reference from Indian society.


Lawrence Friedman and Jack Ladinsky, however, in the context of a discussion of the social effects of law adopt a definition of social change as “any non-repetitive alteration in the established modes of behaviour in society.” The qualification ‘non-repetitive’ is important here for the definition recognize that few societies, if any, are wholly statie. The term ‘social change’ is also used to indicate the changes that take place in human interactions and inter-relations. Society is a ‘web-relationship’ and social change obviously means a change in the system of social relationship where a social relationship is understood n terms of social processes and social interactions and social organizations.

Thus, the term, ‘social change’ is used to indicate desirable variations in social institution, social processes and social organization. It includes alterations in the structure and the functions of the society.


Closer analysis of the role of law vis-à-vis social change leads us to distinguish between the direct and the indirect aspects of the role of law.

  1. Law plays an important indirect role in regard to social change by shaping have a direct impact on society. For example: A law setting up a compulsory educational system.
  2. On the other hand, law interacts in many cases indirectly with basic social institutions in a manner constituting a direct relationship between law and social change. For example: A law designed to prohibit polygamy.

Law plays an agent of modernization and social change. It is also as and indicator of the nature of societal complexity and its attendant problems of integration.

Further, the reinforcement of our belief in the age old panchayat system, the abolition of the abhorables practices of untouchability, child marriage, sati dowry, etc are typical illustrations of social change being brought about in the country through law.

Law is an effective medium or agency, instrumental in bringing about social change in the country or in any region in particular. Therefore, we rejuvenate our belief that law has been pivotal in introducing changes in the societal structure and relationships and continues to be so.

IV. ROLE OF LEGISLATION AND SUPREME COURT OF INDIAA. LegislationAn important instrument of change the state employs in the legislative weapon. To start with, it gives expression to the goal towards which the state is moving. India is an outstanding example of the employment of the legislative measures to initiate change. The promulgation of Indian Constitution was the first step in this direction.Institutionalised inequality was an accepted principle of Indian caste system; equal justice under equal circumstances was unknown under the traditional Indian set up; equality of opportunity was meaningless under a system where education and occupation was caste-based.

A variety of social legislations are being introduced in independent India to bring about change. They cover legislations for the welfare of the downtrodden in the agrarian sector, to emancipate women, to eradicate untouchability, to facilitate the social and economic development of the tribunal population, etc. All these legislations are slowly but surely making their impact on the Indian social fabric.

B. Supreme Court

As of today, the decisions of the Court are not just being tested on the touch stone of social justice, but indeed they are being cited of as precursors to ‘social rights’. The Court has pro-actively and vigorously taken up to cause of social justice and has gone to the extent of articulating newer social rights such as the right to food, right to health, right to education.

Thus, the march of law is clearly in favour of Supreme Court having performed a pro-active role in social change of the languishing masses. It certainly has acted as a catalyst in the process of social transformation of people wherein the dilution of caste inequalities, protective measures for the weak and vulnerable sections, providing for the dignified existence of those living under unwholesome conditions, etc, are the illustrious examples in this regards


Social change involves an alteration of society; its economic structure, values and beliefs, and its economic, political and social dimensions also undergo modification. However, social change does not affect all aspects of society in the same manner.

While much of social change is brought about by material changes such as technology, new patterns of production, etc, other conditions are also necessary. For example, like we have discussed it before, legal prohibition of untouchability in free India has not succeeded because of inadequate social support. Nonetheless, when law cannot bring about change without social support, it still can create certain preconditions for social change.

Moreover, after independence, the Constitution of India provided far-reaching guidelines for change. Its directive principle suggested a blue-print for a new nation. The derecognition of caste-system, equality before the law, and equal opportunities for all in economic, political and social spheres were some of the high points of the Indian Constitution.

Some areas where law has given the influence for social change are:

  1. Area of agrarian reform policy and legislation;
  2. Area of implementation of untouchability abolition law;
  3. The normative aspects of employment and educational reservation for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes under the Constitution;
  4. The allied field of abolition of bonded labour;
  5. The problem of substantive impact of changes in the family law marriage, equal rights of women to inheritance and dowry.

VI. Conclusion

The law through legislative or administrative responses to new social conditions and ideas, as well as through judicial re-interpretations of constitutions statues or precedents, increasingly not only articulates but sets the course for major social changes.

The law is one of many responses to such change. In certain respects it is the most important, since it represents the authority of the state, and its sanctioning power. The legal response to a given social or technological problem is therefore in itself a major social action which may aggravate a given problem or alleviate and help to solve it.


Main References:

  • An Aspect of Sociological Jurisprudence and Social Change: Tracing the Role of Supreme Court of India by Tarun Jain.
  • Commodity Form and Legal Form by I.D. Balbus.
  • Law and Social Change by Yehezkel Dror.
  • Law in a Changing Society (Chapter 1, Chapter 15 and Chapter 16) by W. Friedman.
  • Nine Thesis on Social Movement by A.G. Frank and Marten Frentes.
  • Personal Liberty and Social Relatives by V.K. Dixit.
  • The Judicial Process Among the Barotse of Northern Rhodesia by Max Gluckman.
  • Toward A Sociology of Law (Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4) by Upendra Baxi.


2 thoughts on “Law and Society

  1. hey Faiz, it was really nice to read an article which has quoted mine. I wrote it three years back for my jurisprudential class and then sent it to Indian Bar Review (probably u have got it from there).
    but then i was a law student then and now being a lawyer and having seen the ins and outs of courts, I am pretty sure that such initiatives for social change are not an every day phenomenon and neither is every judge looking forward for such. but then it is equally true that such change is in fact brought out, intentionally or otherwise, given the decisions of the court to such regard.
    meanwhile I have started a law blog myself. hope you would be interested to look around.

  2. Hi Tarun,

    Nice to know you as one of my article reference authors. Yup, i got your article from the Indian Bar Review. It’s so insightful, especially you wrote it when you were still in college.

    Well, seems you look happy and supa-busy as a lawyer based in U.K. And another thing that you also have a very inspiring Blawg.

    Please keep contact, Coz I’m planning to take my Doctoral degree there. See you soon Tarun!

    Warm Regards,

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