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Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes [Paperback]

by Robert Ellickson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 14, 1994 0674641698 978-0674641693

In Order without Law Robert C. Ellickson shows that law is far less important than is generally thought. He demonstrates that people largely govern themselves by means of informal rules-social norms-that develop without the aid of a state or other central coordinator. Integrating the latest scholarship in law, economics, sociology, game theory, and anthropology, Ellickson investigates the uncharted world within which order is successfully achieved without law.

The springboard for Ellickson's theory of norms is his close investigation of a variety of disputes arising from the damage created by escaped cattle in Shasta County, California. In "The Problem of Social Cost" --the most frequently cited article on law--economist Ronald H. Cease depicts farmers and ranchers as bargaining in the shadow of the law while resolving cattle-trespass disputes. Ellickson's field study of this problem refutes many of the behavioral assumptions that underlie Coase's vision, and will add realism to future efforts to apply economic analysis to law. Drawing examples from a wide variety of social contexts, including whaling grounds, photocopying centers, and landlord-tenant relations, Ellickson explores the interaction between informal and legal rules and the usual domains in which these competing systems are employed. Order without Law firmly grounds its analysis in real-world events, while building a broad theory of how people cooperate to mutual advantage.

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Editorial Reviews


Uses theory and ethnography to explain norms in a manner that sociologists would do well to imitate. [Ellickson] presents evidence in an objective style that allows readers to reach their own verdicts, and his skillful storytelling accentuates his theoretical acumen. (Jason Jimerson American Journal of Sociology)

A welcome addition to the new literature on conflict, law, and informal social control in contemporary societies... [Order without Law] constitutes one of the most eloquent and powerful attacks yet on the widespread belief that government lies at the heart of social order in the modern world. (M. P. Baumgartner Contemporary Sociology)

"[A] fascinating book... Ellickson's clean prose and considerate rhetorical style are refreshing. (William Fischel Land Economics)

This immensely interesting, wide-ranging, well-written, learned, and contentious book--a superb analysis of extralegal regulation--will command a large readership among academic lawyers and social scientists, and may in the fullness of time come to be regarded as a classic of interdisciplinary legal scholarship. (Richard A. Posner, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit)


Robert Ellickson shows that people govern themselves largely by means of informal rules--social norms--without the aid of a state or other central coordinator. Integrating the latest scholarship in law, economics, sociology, game theory, and anthropology, Ellickson investigates the uncharted world within which order is successfully achieved without law. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: How Neighbors Settle Disputes
  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 14, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674641698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674641693
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of genre. December 29, 1997
Legal scholars tend to assume that law matters; i.e., that people seek to comport their behavior with applicable rules of law. In what is probably the best sociological study of the role of law in dispute resolution, Robert Ellickson demonstrates that disputes are often resolved without recourse to law and, even more important, in ways different than they would have been resolved in court.
Ellickson begins with a richly detailed case study: Boundary and cattle trespass disputes in Shasta County, California. After reviewing the Shasta County experience, Ellickson relates his findings to a theoretical framework grounded in economics and psychology. The book thus combines the best of both theoretical and empirical approaches to the study of law.
Legal scholarship is increasingly concerned with the way social norms control behavior. This is the book that started that debate. It deserves to be read by anybody who is interested in law, economics, or dispute resolution.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Fences Make Good Neighbors November 11, 2001
Order Without Law studies why, and under what circumstances, people accept a body of rules when there is no written law establishing those rules, and occasionally when the written law contradicts those rules. To answer this question, Professor Robert Ellickson settled into a long and detailed field study of the attitudes of cattle ranchers in Shasta County, California. His primary focus was on the informal rules governing boundary fences; who pays to build, who pays to maintain, who accepts the risk of stray cattle, and so forth. While his geographical focus was narrow, it was impressively deep, involving dozens of personal interviews and detailed reviews of public records. Ellickson explains why he believes that two current theories, law-and-economics and law-and-society, are both inadequate. He creates his own useful taxonomy of rules, rule makers, and rule enforcers. He offers hypotheses to predict future situations when people will more likely accept unwritten rules. Designed for professionals who deal daily in human behavior, such as sociologists, anthropologists, and lawyers, Order Without Law remains accessible to the general reader. One part was difficult to follow: the extended analysis of the Prisoner's Dilemma and its variations. But overall Order Without Law is a valuable addition to law and the social sciences.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Ellickson lucidly combines economic theory with solid empirical work -- speaking both the language of game theory and the (folksy) language of Shasta County cattle ranchers -- to provide a fresh perspective on informal mechanisms of "alternative dispute resolution."
Studies that combine social anthropology with microeconomic theory are rare; ones with nontrivial findings, and broad implications, are even rarer. But this is exactly what Ellickson accomplishes. Combining theory and observation, Ellickson cogently persuades us that while formal law always operates in the background of any conflict situation, the way people actually solve their disputes often differs markedly from formal law, because of culture, transaction costs, expectations, and other subtleties not incorporated into law books.
This book is well-written, well-argued, and highly stimulating. It should be on the reading list of anyone interested in voluntary cooperation, organizational economics, cultural aspects of strategic behavior, or alternative dispute resolution.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading it! May 22, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting book which explores the world of social norms and its interaction with law. The title is too powerful since, in my opinion, social norms are to some extent law.
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