The Law & Social Sciences Program at the National Science Foundation supports social scientific studies of law and law-like systems of rules. Successful proposals describe research that advances scientific theory and understanding of the connections between law or legal processes and human behavior. The Law & Social Sciences Program funds the best proposals submitted within the field broadly defined, regardless of specific subfield, and strives to support an interdisciplinary community of scholars studying relevant topics.
Social scientific studies of law often approach law as dynamic, made in multiple arenas, with the participation of multiple actors. Scholars study mobilization, the creation and implementation of law, and the meanings of rules or laws to both individuals and institutions. The Program considers proposals that examine historical, social, cultural and policy-related questions that arise concerning law, and invites proposals relying upon qualitative and/or quantitative methods. The Program also considers and funds proposals from many different disciplines, including anthropology, communication, criminology, economics, legal scholarship, political science, public policy, psychology, and sociology. The sites for the study of law are multiple and may include appellate and trial courts; domestic and international regulatory offices; federal, state, and local law enforcement; and the variety of settings in which organizations deploy law. Proposals are welcome that address legal processes that extend beyond any single nation, as well as about how local and national legal institutions, systems, and cultures engage transnational or international phenomena.
The Law & Social Sciences Program has funded research on a wide variety of topics relevant to social science and legal scholars. The themes identified below are representative of previous awards from the Law & Social Sciences Program, but do not constitute an exclusive listing of relevant topics. Scholars conducting research in social science related to law (broadly defined) that are outside or beyond these major themes are also encouraged to apply for funding.
Crime, Violence, and Punishment: Research develops theories of crime and methods of crime control based upon social science theories. It examines the etiology of violence in the context of domestic criminal behavior, terrorism, and cross-national conflict.
Economic Issues: Research explores the significance of property rules or contracts in legal disputes, claims in social welfare states, and the role of law in labor and migration policies.
Governance: Research examines the deployment of law, including conceptions of what counts as law both cross-nationally and over time. Inquiry in this area addresses how rules have been understood, and the varying format that governing takes in local, regional, national and transnational settings.
Legal Decision Making: Research examines how people and institutions make decisions in the context of particular rules or statutes, and the values revealed in those decisions concerning pressing public issues or criminal justice processes. Research also examines how law is interpreted and reinterpreted by individuals, and how expectations concerning the law influence how people claim rights and responsibilities.
Legal Mobilization and Conceptions of Justice: Research assesses how and when people understand their challenges as legal problems, how individuals choose among systems to pursue justice (e.g., family, communities, non-profit organizations, or state actors), how individuals or groups access justice systems (as well as various equity issues that arise in mobilizing justice), and how well individuals and groups understand justice.
Litigation and Legal Professions: Research addresses the mutual constitution of the legal professions and the world in which they work, and assesses the influence of these professions on public policies and practices. Research also investigates the various forms of litigation and legal services available to people, professionals' understanding of their ethics and responsibility, and issues regarding equity in participation in the profession.
These topics are meant to be illustrative. The Law & Social Sciences Program welcomes all scholarship that advances social scientific understandings of law.
Research can use a variety of methods, including ethnography, analysis of documents, interviews, case studies, surveys, quasi-experimental and experimental approaches, network analysis, and content analysis, or a combination thereof. The methods should be appropriate to the research questions.