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Weber’s writings show rationalization taking multiple forms and proceeding unevenly across societal realms from economy, to polity, to religion, to culture and law (Weber, 1946, 1947, 1978 [1922]). Each institutional sector and form of rationalization—means-ends or practical, value-based or substantive, formal and theoretical—are subject to endogenous tensions, while reciprocally influencing each other (Kalberg, 1980, 1990; see also e.g. Schluchter, 1985; Ewing, 1987; Sutton, 2001: 99-132; Billows, 2017; Kennedy, 2004; Duran 2014). This article returns to Weber’s discussion of rationalization of law and science, and his distinction between formal and substantive rationalization of law, developing the concept of technocratization of law and elucidating the relationship between processes of technocratization and substantivation, to help answer the question of when and how regulatory law can mitigate economic and social inequalities in democratic capitalism.
There is no uniformly agreed definition of regulatory law. Some definitions confine regulatory law to that which polices market entry or exit, price, profit structures or competition and/or that enforced by administrative agencies; other definitions are so broad that almost all law becomes regulatory (Mitnick, 1980: 3-19). Until the late 20th century when American approaches to conceptualizing regulation began resonating in Europe, European relative to American concepts of regulation were broader (Majone, 1994). Some prominent European scholars conceived modes of regulation as broad political-economic and cultural governance forms revolving around capital accumulation and including state macro-economic, labor market and social policies, systems of workplace interest intermediation, economic rulemaking by banks and other non-governmental organizations and cultural schema followed and taught in families and schools (Stryker, 2000)…


This article critiques and builds on Max Weber’s concept of rationalization, using his discussion of legal and scientific rationalizations and his distinction between formal and substantive legal rationalizations to define and illustrate processes of technocratization and substantivation of law. It shows the logical and empirical relationship between the two, and discusses tensions they generate in common law and code law systems. Conceptualizing technocratization and substantivation, and examining these processes in empirical research on regulatory law illuminates the nature, causes and consequences of important aspects of legal change. Substantivation as elaborated by the group-centered effects framework (GCE) formulated specifically to research legislation providing anti-discrimination legal rights to disadvantaged populations in capitalist democracies, helps specify when and how such laws are more versus less likely to increase equality.

Robin Stryker
Department of Sociology, Purdue University
Robin Stryker est Distinguished Professor en sociologie à la Purdue University. Ses recherches portent surtout sur l’articulation entre le droit, les institutions politiques et les transformations contemporaines des systèmes d’inégalités liées au genre, la race, la classe, l’origine nationale et les rôles familiaux. Elle a été professeure invitée au Laboratoire interdisciplinaire d’évaluation des politiques publiques (LIEPP) à Sciences Po (2016), et à l’EHESS (2011). Elle a reçu de nombreuses bourses et prix universitaires, y compris le Guggenheim Fellowship (2008), le Jean Monnet Fellowship (2001-2002), et le Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences Fellowship (2016-2017). Parmi ses publications récentes figurent « From legal doctrine to social transformation » dans l’American Journal of Sociology (avec N. Pedriana, 2017) et Identity Theory and Symbolic Interaction (avec R. Serpe et B. Powell, Springer, 2020).
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