The Court of Justice of the European Union as a Legal Field

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Reflexive sociology can contribute to a more holistic understanding of the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU/Court) as a relational actor. This article draws on the Bourdieusian concept of (legal) field as an analytical framework to trace the power relations between the Court and its interlocutors. The analysis develops around four distinct conceptualisations of the Court as a legal field, ranging from its institutional architecture to the three mainstream judicial routes for a case to reach its docket (preliminary reference procedure, action for annulment and infringement procedure). These showcase the varied interactions among the different actors that either shape the Court as an institution or engage with it in the course of its adjudicative function. According to field theory, these interactions take the form of power struggles between the actors comprising a legal field in order to take control of the determination of the law. The actors of a legal field enjoy different positions that formulate their objective relations, and which are contingent on their disposition and capital. Each of the conceptualisations of the Court as a legal field in this article points to distinct power struggles and relations among a similar set of actors. Consequently, using field theory can be a very useful tool to contextualise the role of the Court and to systematically study its judgments, modus operandi and position in the European legal field under a reflexive lens that accentuates the significance of social space and power relations, and pushes for socio-legal and empirical insights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-270
Number of pages27
JournalEuropean Law Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2023


  • European Union Law
  • Court of Justice of the European Union
  • Bourdieu
  • field
  • reflexive sociology

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