WG Judicialization of Social Problems

Created by the RCSL Board at its meeting of 17 December 2021


Nuancing Legal Responses to Social Problems: “Glocal” Scope and Plural Approaches


Future Activities

Chair: João Velloso, University of Ottawa, Canada [ joao.velloso<at>uottawa.ca ]

Contact: jsp.rcsl<at>gmail.com

YouTube channel: https://tinyurl.com/jsp-rcsl

Regional Coordinators:

– North America and Europe (interim): João Velloso, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada

– Latin America: Izabel Sanger Nuñes, InEAC-UFF, UERJ (Brazil) [ izabelsn<at>gmail.com ]

– Africa, and Asia-Oceania: To be determined.

Working languages: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.


It is a pleasure to present the new Working Group on Judicialization of Social Problems, approved by the RCSL Board last December. Our main purpose is to have a long term academic forum on how law is being mobilized in the governance of social problems, a place where we can bring together different approaches, empirical contexts and areas of law. Social problems are legally addressed in countless ways across the globe and we believe that we still have a lot to learn with each other. In this sense, openness to interdisciplinary, jurisdictional and regional diversity, and comparative perspectives are fundamental aspects of this collective enterprise of understanding and nuancing judicialization of social problems, the sociolegal strategies involved in such processes, the role of actors and their institutional practices.

The WG has its origins in the three sessions of the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology (Toronto, 2018) and the Onãti workshop (IISJ, Oñati, 2019) called Social Control, Judicialization of Social Problems and Governance of Security in Comparative Perspectives, organized by myself (João Velloso, University of Ottawa, Canada) and Vivian Paes (Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil). In these two events, we counted the participation of over thirty scholars from ten different countries (Global North and South) and many disciplinary backgrounds (law, sociology, anthropology, criminology, political science, social work and urban studies). At the beginning, our idea was to simply create a session about the dynamics of judicialization and social control ,not limited to the idea of criminalization framed from a Global North perspective, but  would prioritize the sociology of law and socio-legal approaches to the practices of legal institutions when responding to social problems or dealing with security projects. One session became three, three sessions became the basis for a two-day workshop in Onãti and this geographically and disciplinarily diverse network started to take shape, incorporating other scholars over the years. The interest we received for these activities, our discussions and the need to be enriched even more by other studies were our main motivations to continue with sessions at the IV ISA Forum of Sociology (Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2021) and the Global Meeting on Law and Society (Lisbon, 2022), and to create this WG. Finally, we would like to acknowledge that we would not be able to create this WG without the early support from former RCSL president Masayuki Murayama, who encouraged us back in 2017 to develop and consolidate our sessions with a workshop in Oñati, the support from current president Ulrike Schultz, who really made the last push for us to make this happen now, and the comments and support from RCSL Board members and the founding members of the WG.

Nuancing Legal Responses to Social Problems: “Glocal” Scope and Plural Approaches

The judicialization of social problems, as a sociolegal phenomenon, has changed substantially in the last decades, both by harshening criminal punishment and by widening the scope of penalization processes within and beyond criminal justice. Theoretically, and normally, contemporary democracies tend to manage conflicts and people through legal institutions anchored in a liberal triad composed by legal rules, balanced rights and sanctions often associated with criminal law and trials. While criminalization is still the primary face of how legal institutions deal with problematic situations, an increasing number of scholars are pointing to two significant aspects: 1) criminalization is a fairly heterogenous sociolegal process, varying substantially depending on who you are and where you are located; and 2) there are many forms and processes of judicialization and penalization, either within criminal justice (e.g. plea bargaining, regimes for those not criminally responsible or unfit to trial, etc.) or relying on administrative, civil, regulatory and even hybrid legal regimes.

This Working Group welcomes scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds exploring the routines and practices of various legal institutions contributing to the judicialization of social problems and the governance of security. Themes may include the following aspects of judicialization of social problems:

  • Legal responses of any kind (criminal, administrative, civil, regulatory, hybrid, etc.), anywhere;
  • Criminalization processes (in the plural, from Global North and South);
  • Connections between different legal regimes and collateral consequences of judicialization;
  • Multijurisdictional forms of governance or judicialization (Federal, Regional, Local, or International);
  • Law reform, decriminalization and re-regulation concerning social problems;
  • Judicial aspects of policing and governmental agencies managing social problems;
  • Legal pluralistic responses to social problems;
  • And many other mobilizations of legal orders as part of social control ensembles or the governance of social problems. We have been receiving “outside of the box” contributions since 2018 and we are very aware that we simply cannot yet capture the richness of all the empirical experiences across the globe.  

By putting studies about multiple contexts and jurisdictions into conversation, we really hope to develop a better understanding on how law (State-based or not) is being mobilized to govern social problems, the dynamics of access to justice and the forms of resistance to old and new social control projects.


The WG will have a structure of governance composed by the chair and up to five regional coordinators (North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia-Oceania), the chair being responsible for his or her own continental region. This aims to facilitate the global reach of the WG and the organization of local events, as well as assure our presence in international meetings. We started with two regional  coordinators, covering the continental regions: Joao Velloso (Canada) for North America and Europe (interim) and Izabel Saenger Nuñes (Brazil) for Latin America. Our plan is to define coordinators for Europe, Africa, Asia-Oceania by the end of 2022. The administrative language of the WG is English, but we can work in the three official languages of the ISA (English, French and Spanish) plus Portuguese. Most of our current members are bilingual or trilingual. Even if this is not a requirement, we hope this will help creating a more diverse community and organizing regional and local conferences in different languages. Please, feel free to join the WG and help in its governance in the future.

Future activities

We plan to have three sessions at the Global Meeting on Law and Society (Lisbon, 2022): Judicialization of Social Problems and Governance of Security in Comparative Perspectives I, II & III, being two in person and one online. We also plan to organize or support local and regional online or hybrid events in-between the RCSL international meetings. We have already created a YouTube channel for the WG (see link above) and our plan is to use it to live stream conferences and as a repository for some of our activities. We hope this will help in creating and solidifying international networks and in the recruitment of new members for the WG and the RCSL. Do not hesitate to contact us at jsp.rcsl<at>gmail.com, or one of our regional coordinators, and inquire about possibilities of collaborations.

January 2022 – João Velloso joao.velloso<at>uottawa.ca

See also the report about the activities of the WG presented to the RCSL Board on 18 March 2024

This page last updated 27 June 2024