Journal of Consumer Policy

, 34:289 | Cite as

False Promises? A Sociological Critique of the Behavioural Turn in Law and Economics

  • Sabine FrerichsEmail author
Original Paper


Economic bestsellers like Freakonomics and Nudge that mainly address outsiders of the economic discipline are also consumed by lawyers. The latter has already become an important reference in the field of consumer law and policy. In principle, this is nothing to complain about but part of law’s encounter with science, namely the social sciences. Notably, the law and economics movement proved successful in importing economic perspectives into legal discourse. However, it would seem questionable if the law followed each trend on the academic book market. While there has been an increasing emphasis on economic perspectives at the expense of sociological perspectives within the field of law, economy, and society, a major shift can now also be observed in the field of law and economics. With the behavioural turn in law and economics, homo oeconomicus seems to be transformed into Homer Economicus, and consumer law prone to be Simpsonized. In this paper, the turn from neoclassical law and economics to behavioural law and economics will be analysed from a third, namely sociological perspective: the economic sociology of law. In this framework, it is possible to compare and confront the “old” homo oeconomicus rationalis and the “new” homo oeconomicus behaviouralis with a third model—homo oeconomicus culturalis—which demonstrates the limits of the previous models, not least with regard to explaining the recent financial crisis. While governance by nudges might look, at first sight, as a tempting idea, I will question the normative side of this project and emphasize its possible effects on our legal culture and, thereby, our human condition.


Behavioural economics Consumer law Economic sociology Culture Human condition 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre of Excellence “Foundations of European Law and Polity”University of HelsinkiUniversity of HelsinkiFinland

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