Brief book review – Cambridge Handbook of Compliance

Benjamin van Rooij and Daniel Sokol (Eds), (2021), Cambridge University Press, 1,019 pages

What do we know and what don’t we know about compliance (and non-compliance)? Those questions sum up the 69 chapters of the recent Cambridge Handbook of Compliance. The book is edited by Professor Benjamin van Rooij (University of Amsterdam) and Professor Daniel Sokol (University of Florida); both are leading academics in compliance studies.

The book approaches compliance with law and regulation from a wide range of angles. It moves well beyond considering compliance and non-compliance as the result of calculative or rational behaviour—the “cost-benefit” assumption that has long driven regulation. For example, Professor Fiona Haines conceptualises non-compliance as a form of contestation (Chapter 8). Approaching compliance from many angles raises many questions about what compliance is, who decides what compliance is and who complies, and if we can recognise compliance if we see it.

Van Rooij’s synthesis of research on “Do people know the law?” (Chapter 32) provides a good illustration of the chapters in the book. Overviewing the published research on this topic, van Rooij finds that the “link between legal knowledge and compliance may not be as linear and simple as it may seem, as a lower level of legal knowledge does not automatically mean that there will be lower compliance” (p. 468).

For example, if laws or regulations do not align with people’s own or broader social norms, they may not be inclined to comply. This, van Rooij continues, has two possible impacts on compliance: “If the social norms and morals happen to be aligned with the law, there can be compliance even if people do not have sound legal knowledge. And vice versa, the less the social norms are aligned with the law, the less such social norms can remedy the lack of legal knowledge” (p. 484).

The take-home lesson of the book is that there are no simple causal relationships between law and regulation and (compliance) behaviour. The answers that scholars have found to the question “Why do people comply?” are simply too broad and varied, too context and time-dependent, and too individual and organisation-specific to distil them down to mantras and catchphrases. However, the book does a great job of bringing together the broad sets of compliance patterns that scholars have found in bite-size chunks (the 69 chapters).

The book makes a long-awaited contribution to the literature. Compliance (and non-compliance) has received much academic inquiry but little synthesis to date. The broad coverage and easy-to-read chapters are relevant to everyone interested in regulation, enforcement, and compliance.

Disclaimer In these brief book reviews, I discuss classic and contemporary books that make up the canon of regulatory scholarship. I focus on their central guiding idea or core notions and aim to keep the reviews to around 500 words. Unfortunately, this implies I must sacrifice a considerable amount of detail from the books reviewed.

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