Nearly 50 Years of the JLS

Phil Thomas, Founding Editor of the Journal of Law and Society

1974, was an eventful year. ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo, and they are still singing today albeit as avatars in London. McDonalds opened its first franchise in the UK. Nixon resigned as USA president to be replaced by Gerald Ford. In the UK, Edward Heath was replaced by Harold Wilson. The world population reached 4 billion. Further news from 1974 is that Cardiff Law School recently graduated its first law class, and the Journal of Law and Society was established by staff members working in the School.

Constitutions are living documents, statutory interpretation is dynamic and case law is flexible. What lacked elasticity was legal education. Doctrinal teaching relied on texts and one’s presence in the library to tease out the meaning, purpose and value of the law. The term ‘black letter’ law was descriptive, not pejorative. It underwrote an academic pedagogy that was proselytised by the predominantly white, male teachers who had studied and achieved high grades in the most prestigious UK universities. But the wind of change arrived in some law schools largely introduced by young scholars who had experienced an alternative academic life as post-graduates or as young teachers overseas, principally in the USA and Africa. They brought a fresh vision and shared it with those colleagues seeking to break from academic traditionalism. Although a UK diaspora they found common cause and comradeship through the Socio-Legal Group which ultimately morphed into the establishment of the Socio-Legal Studies Association in 1990.

Socio-legal research has experienced a kaleidoscopic series of interpretations and definitions. The Journal of Law and Society was established to offer a prismatic view of the multi-faceted, emerging research. Volume one of 215 pages carried eight papers, seven comments and six reviews. Twenty of the authors were men. with10 women. By 2021 the Journal had expanded to 847 pages, published in four issues plus an electronic Special Supplement. It carried 37 articles and 12 book reviews. 20 authors are men, 51 are women. Today the Journal is published in a hybrid format that operates open access alongside a pay wall. Our commitment to maintain the highest standards of quality control, appropriate response times and positive support to authors remains unchanged.

Academic publishing has experienced dramatic changes and there is more to come. Our creation of this website reflects the blending of the ancient and modern. The creation of ‘JLS Conversations’, for instance, provides a new, dynamic space in which to continue the critical and fervent debates that underpin the articles which feature in the Journal. Alongside it, we seek to provide a repository of resources – videos, writing, and opportunities – for both prospective JLS authors as well as the burgeoning socio-legal community more broadly. The values and expectations expressed in the brief editorial in volume one remain valid and underwrite this venture. We operate editorially as a collective and we invite you to be a contributor to this new enterprise. It is a global platform for us to share and exchange, ideas, information, experiences, opportunities, and network. The website will be both ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ aiming to ignore boundaries and limitations, forever progressive and challenging in its content. Its interactivity depends on your involvement and to this end we invite you to contribute to this new era of the Journal of Law and Society.

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