Comparative genealogies of “Contract and Society”

Translated title of the contribution: Comparative genealogies of “Contract and Society”

Klaas Hendrik Eller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since contracts form a basic institution of every legal order, the interdisciplinary orientation of concepts of contracts reveals socio-legal inclinations of a legal order more broadly. Contrasting the UK and US Common Law of contracts with developments under German law, this Article examines the relation between normative and social science approaches, notably rooted in economics, economic sociology, and social theory in the genealogy of contract law. A shared leitmotif over the 20th century has been the drive to account for the societal embeddedness of contract. However, conceptualizations of “Contract and Society” differ considerably between legal orders in their disciplinary ingredients and design. In the US, and to a lesser extent also in the UK, the rather continuous reception of legal realism has paved the way for broad interdisciplinary perspectives on contract law, ranging from classical socio-legal, empirical work (e.g., Macaulay), economics (e.g., Williamson), sociology (e.g., Powell), and critical theory (e.g., Kennedy) to today’s landscape, where essentially instrumental and ideal-normative theor compete. Alternatively, in Germany, where the realist heritage was more ephemeral, the transformations of contract law were processed from within legal discourse and foremost in their effects on private autonomy as conceptualized, for example, in German idealism, discourse theory and critical theory. Similarly, the “constitutionalization” of contract law, even if championed for fostering private law’s reflexivity, has, for the most part, defied a socio-legal orientation. Finally, the Article highlights the path dependencies with which these different starting points translate in current debates around the role of contract in transnational governance.

Translated title of the contributionComparative genealogies of “Contract and Society”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-299
Number of pages27
JournalRevista de Direito Civil Contemporaneo
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Comparative contractual law
  • Constitutionalization
  • Law and Sociology
  • Societal embeddedness of contract
  • “Contract and Society”


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