Families of Meaning: Dismantling the Boundaries between Law and Society

Tracey Summerfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Legal positivism insists upon a distinction between the inside and outsideof law. While critical theorists have illustrated the ways in which the lines are alwaysblurred there remains a perceived distinction, in law, between the interpretation of conceptsthat occurs in the law and that which occurs outside the law. Only the former have legallegitimacy. The idea of the legal family is a case in point, where the law defines familyaccording to its own prescriptions irrespective of how the family is constituted by nonlegalcommunities. In this paper I seek to develop a mechanism by which the law canacknowledge and affirm that which is ‘outside’. This requires, firstly, a conception of law ascommunication. Secondly, the task demands that jurists engage with the semiotic processesof the everyday and that legal concepts, at least those that exist independently of the law(‘family’ for example) be framed with a more open indexicality. This might enable suchconcepts to be interpreted according to a range of contexts, other than (or in addition to)the legal one.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-175
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law/Revue Internationale de Semiotique Juridique
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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