4 Int'l J. L. Context 1 (2008)

handle is hein.journals/injwcext4 and id is 1 raw text is: 

International Journal of Law in Context, 4J PP. 1-33 (2008) Cambridge University Press
rOI: I0-G018/S174455230 -80   Printed in the United Kingdom

A   legal field in action: the case of divorce

arrangements in Israel

Daphna   Hacker*
Lecturer at the Buchman  Law Faculty and the NCJW  Women   and Gender  Studies Program,
Tel Aviv University

    This paper suggests a theoretical and methodological framework that integrates Bourdieu's conception
    of the juridicalfield with Mnookin and Kornhauser's claim of the centrality of the action occurring in
    the shadow of the law. This framework is constructed based on a study of the Israeli legal field
    governing divorce that included the analysis of 360 divorce files and in-depth interviews with more
    than 40 divorcees and legal and therapeutic professionals. The study allows a rare exploration of a
    legalfield in action, including the main positions within the field and the power relations between them,
    as well as the field's boundaries and game rules. The findings illustrate the importance ofBourdieu's
    fields theory ifand when opened up to the informal dimensions oflaw and demonstrate the potential of
    the suggested framework to the sociological understanding of law in action.


Two  decades have passed since Pierre Bourdieu (1987) applied his notion of social fields to law. Since
then, the theoretical and  methodological  implications of conceiving  law as a  social field have
received scant attention (Garcfa Villegas 2006, p. 58). The few who relate to Bourdieu's notion of
'juridical field' either dismiss it as too static to be useful to the understanding of the complexity and
dynamism   of law (Valverde, 2006), or use it uncritically in their studies. Interestingly, these studies
are mainly  grand-scale investigations mapping the historical development  of a whole national or
transnational juridical field (for example, Dezalay and Garth, 1996; TomlinS 2004; Cohen 2007). This
paper seeks to join those who find the theoretical conceptualisation of law as a social field useful, but
to do so critically, while focusing on the present ongoing  activities taking place in a particular
doctrinal legal field. Through a thick description of a segment of the Israeli legal field governing
divorce, I demonstrate the potential of Bourdieu's field theory for the sociological understanding of
law in action, if the theory is expanded to include also the informal dimensions of law.
    Bourdieu's application of his social fields conception to law was limited to a discussion of the
latter's adversarial dimensions. His brief description of the judge as 'a third-person mediator' stands in
stark contrast to his definition of the 'juridical field' as 'a social space organized around the conversion
of direct conflict between directly concerned parties into juridically regulated debate between profes-
sionals acting by proxy' (Bourdieu, 1987, p. 831). In line with this definition, he proceeded to focus on

*   I thank Ronen Shamir and Haya Stier for their guidance and The Colton Fund, The Israel Foundations
    Trustee, The Chutick Scholarship, The Lord and Lady Sieff Doctoral Fellowship, The William P. and R.
    Lowenstein Doctoral Fellowship, The Cegla Center, and Tel Aviv University for their support. I am also
    grateful to Menachem Mautner, Hanoch Dagan, Shai Lavi, Dan Gibton, Daphne Barak-Erez, Hadar Aviram,
    Avi Cordova, Moussa Abou Ramadan, Motti Regev, Michal Frenkel, and the members of the Tel Aviv Faculty
    of Law Seminar, The Haifa University Law Faculty Seminar, the Bar Ilan Faculty of Law Seminar and the
    American Bar Foundation Seminar for their useful comments on earlier drafts. I also thank Dana Meshulam
    for her editorial contribution.

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