Do Labor Court Judges Shape the World of Work?

This project sets out to develop an empirical sociology of law, taking as its starting point not the objects of legislation but the actors who shape the application of law. The research is based on a qualitative case study of the career histories, professional self-understanding, and everyday working lives of labor judges conducted between 2007 and 2009 as part of a national survey at first- and second-tier labor courts. In open topic-centered interviews 35 judges supplied information, and numerous discussions were conducted with experts in labor law.

Interview analysis pursues two main objectives. The first is to prepare a typology of the attitudes and approaches of the interviewed judges, distinguishing between guarantors, generalists, appliers, and critics of the law. These different types of judge differ in their personal understanding of their profession, their use of available legal latitude, and their assessments of trends and developments in labor law and the world of work. The second focus is to evaluate and interpret the judges' own assessments of their scope of influence, concentrating on developments in labor law and its accessibility within the world of work. Can labor law still be regarded as a protection for employees? Or does it privilege those who are already in a stronger position and thus exacerbate inequalities? To what extent can labor judges function as mediators of social conflict in the sphere of work?

The project seeks to advance empirically-based application-orientated welfare state research, treating the judges as an element of statehood at work.

(Last modified August 2012)