Community Change, Community Stasis, and the Law

  • Gary B. Melton


A useful starting point for consideration of law and community psychology is to pose a literary existential question: why should a handbook on community psychology have a chapter on law? I suspect that the initial (and perhaps the only) answer that comes to the minds of most community psychologists is that the law represents a means of community change. One strategy that a community psychologist can stimulate when a class of people is mistreated is to “sue the bastards.” Indeed, if the conventional wisdom is to be believed (and empirical data suggest that in this matter it should not; see Galanter, 1983; Trubek. 1984), the predominant American response to interpersonal and class conflict is to resort to litigation. In popular lore, Perry Mason; Judge Wapner (or his successor, mayor-turned-TV-judge Ed Koch); the litigators at McKenzie, Brackman; and most recently, a spate of dramatic prosecutors and public defenders are the referees in, and sometimes the initiators of, social conflict–the bearers of the “big stick” who will ensure that justice triumphs. Play in the political arena may be limited to those with numbers and bucks big enough to be noticed, but the power of the law (so the image goes) is there to be exercised by he who is right, not necessarily he who is privileged. The courts theoretically offer an even playing field in which all actors, regardless of their wealth or their power in other arenas, are empowered to defend and promote their interests


Legal System Procedural Justice Community Change Community Psychology Media Campaign 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary B. Melton
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute on Family and Neighborhood LifeClemson UniversityUSA

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