"Legal socialization" versus legal literacy or legal awareness

I have discrovered the concept of “legal socialization” which means:

the process through which, individuals acquire attitudes and beliefs about the law, legal authorities, and legal institutions. This occurs through individuals’ interactions, both personal and vicarious, with police, courts, and other legal actors. To date, most of what is known about legal socialization comes from studies of individual differences among adults in their perceived legitimacy of law and legal institutions, and in their cynicism about the law and its underlying norms. adults’ attitudes about the legitimacy of law are directly tied to individuals’ compliance with the law and cooperation with legal authorities.

In legal empowerment literature I have also learnt the concept “legal literacy” that paralegal have the habit of using. However the concept of “legal socialization” is absent in legal empowerment literature, I mean that I have never seen paralegals using the expression “legal socialization”.

Why it is absent in paralegal discourse? Is there any difference between legal socialization and legal literacy?

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Thanks for posing this interesting question, @ismailasall! Trust you’re keeping well in France and that your dissertation is coming along nicely. I hope you don’t mind but I edited your post to fix some formatting. Can you tell us the publication or website link where you read about this concept of legal socialization? Always good to share sources. :wink:

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Thank you Tobias. Many scholars use the concept of legal socialization. There is the book of Cohn, Ellen S., White, Susan O. titled “Legal Socialization A Study of Norms and Rules”. She also defines it in an article in this way

Legal socialization refers to the processes through which members of a society acquire its legal values, such as fairness, equality, and justice, and its norms of rule-governed behaviour. The primary socializers of legal values may be families, schools, peers, religious groups, or the state itself, depending on the relative influence of these agents in the culture and the extent to which a society is traditional in its orientation to authority

see Cohn, E. S. and White, S. O. (1997), Legal socialization effects on democratization. International Social Science Journal, p. 152.

And in USA there are many authors who use it.


Dear Ismaila, I want to start by saying I haven’t come across the concept " Legal socialization" before now but I am very much in tune with "legal Empowerment" Legal Empowerment as simply put by @Vivek Maru is for communities to know the law, you the law and shape the law. Now coming back to your poser on legal literacy and legal socialization, the choice of word to me may be contextual. In your own words socialization is focusing more on individual interactions or learning from experience on the institutions of justice( police, courts and legal actors) as opposed to the legal literacy used by paralegals. Now let’s take us through each key phases of the legal empowerment and try to see how socialization is embedded in all of them.

  1. Knowing the law; knowledge can either be gained through interaction with the said institutions or from someone who has the knowledge and then shares with all. In the first instance, people develope their own opinion about the systems as a result of experience/ socialization while in the second context, someone helps them with an insight. These people who do that are mainly the paralegals hence the term legal literacy. How ever, the slight difference between the first and second situations is while you are gaining this knowledge, it is expected that you would
  2. Use the law: in using the law, you are having direct interaction with the institutions through a support system of someone who is available to explain procedures at various stages and to help you have a better understanding of situations. (Paralegal). Now the difference between this type of socialization and the other, is that experience here won’t be used to form a negative opinion but it will be documented and used for a positive course. Challenges and successes would be used to engage with custodians of the law in what ever level to help
  3. Shape the law; here community members who are users of the law come together to advocate for changes and push for laws that would be usable. Using evidence from socialization to convince law makers to make amendments/ improve the law and make accessibility better. They also at this point, starting for the second level, demand for accountability mechanisms are put in place. Community knowledge of the law, it’s usage would translate into attitudinal change but towards the right. My understanding of legal Empowerment from my perspective as a paralegal. I would however, read up text to understand better the concept of " Legal socialization".

Fatima Adamou, thank you for your very interesting contribution. It’s my director of thesis who told me to use the concept “legal socialisation”, but now I understand that it’s not the same thing than “legal literacy” or “public legal education”. It’s clear your explainnation.

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