An international research network for PhD scholars with a shared interest in thinking about law will be launched at a conference to be held at Kent on Friday 15 June.
The new Interdisciplinary Legal Studies (ILS) Network, an initiative of academics at Kent Law School, seeks to engage doctoral students and early career researchers across all disciplines in a critical exploration of legal research.
The network’s inaugural one-day conference on ‘The Uses and Futures of Interdisciplinary Legal Studies’ will be hosted by the Law School on Kent’s Canterbury campus. Scholars are invited to submit a brief, 200-word summary of their doctoral research project together with a 200-word summary of their experience of/reflection on interdisciplinary legal research to KLSResearch@kent.ac.uk by Thursday 15 March.
As an alternative to the conventional pattern of papers and plenaries, the conference will provide opportunities for collective discussion in small groups and wider discussion with the support of six guest scholars: Professor Diamond Ashiagbor (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies); Professor Kate Bedford (University of Birmingham); Professor Emilios Christodoulidis (University of Glasgow); Dr Emilie Cloatre (University of Kent); Professor Marieke de Goede (University of Amsterdam); and Professor Ambreena Manji (University).
Law Schools already subscribed to the ILS network include: Kent Law School, Westminster Law School, Birkbeck Law School, Warwick Law School, Universidad de los Andes Law School, Melbourne Law School, LSE Law School, Science Po Law School, and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais Law School.
The registration fee for the conference is £35. More details, including arrangements for travel and accommodation, are available on the conference website. Any queries can be directed to conference organisers Dr Thanos Zartaloudis: firstname.lastname@example.org and Professor Donatella Alessandrini email@example.com
A further conference is planned for 2020.
Arguably, modern legal scholarship is today more vibrant, complex and inter-disciplinary than ever before. Legal studies and legal practices are increasingly informed by a wide range of complex interdisciplinary borrowing, interaction and cooperation. Furthermore, different approaches to legal research and education, as varied as doctrinal, neo-realist, socio-legal, feminist, neo-Marxist, law-in-action, critical, contextual and so forth, appear to concur, often through a growing degree of self-criticism, that the emergence of sophisticated interdisciplinary scholarship amidst various political perspectives, methods and disciplines has influenced or, at least, to an extent challenged legal teaching, learning, researching, decision-making, concept-constructing and vocational practice. Our primary concern in this conference is with inquiring into the manner and purpose of the interdisciplinary research experience in contemporary broad-minded legal studies.
Interdisciplinary practices and aims have been subject to contention, as well as variation and recalibration, for many decades. Is it, for instance, disciplinary integration and/or interaction that are aimed at? Is it, instead, juxtaposition, coordination, and the rigorous ability to read parallel sequences (often categorized as falling under ‘multidisciplinarity’)? Is it the critique of the structural formation of knowledges, or the ultimate transcending of a discipline that is aimed at (its transformation, often categorized under the name of ‘transdisciplinarity’)?
What if, however, interdisciplinary legal research aimed at neither a mere self-sufficient juxtaposition, nor an over-ambitious synthesis? Who would be the audience and what would be the purpose of interdisciplinary research and study of law and in law? It is often observed, for example, that interdisciplinary attempts in legal research borrow methods or material (however successfully) from another discipline in order to then near-exclusively address a legal audience, without manifesting, in fact, a genuine attempt to study as well as engage with that other discipline’s audience. What, then, if interdisciplinarity begins only once it admits that distinctions run through disciplines as much as between them and that therefore one has to study them rigorously in all sorts of ways (be they methodological and theoretical, instrumental and critical, endogenous and exogenous etc.)?
Academic disciplines are indeed contingent and highly permeable products of complex historical processes. Distinctions and synergies between disciplines are equally contingent on different histories and cultures (for example, history is the foundational social science in France, while in Britain it is categorized under the humanities; equally we can ask: is law a social science or a part of the humanities?). Lacking some kind of absolute consistency, disciplines differentiate their functions through transforming knowledges and practices, in the self-defining and self-serving interior dynamics. Disciplines are however a recent modern invention and, more than it is usually admitted, they have always remained in a state of almost permanent ‘crisis’, flux and cognitive (as well political or social) challenge. Within the institution of the University disciplinary self-definition and self-defense has intensified, often forgetting that disciplines themselves are re-created or redefined through collisions between differing cognitive spheres.
Interdisciplinarity, it is then proposed, may be neither a panacea for all the problems one encounters in legal research and higher education more widely, nor an unnecessary opportune distraction from the rigor of a disciplinary program of study. In addition, interdisciplinarity, in its multiple and complex formations and deformations, should not be constrained by the success of its hype. Too often, as a mostly managerial or marketing buzzword without much challenging substance, it has infiltrated Universities to the point that now almost all departments and all disciplines aim to foster interdisciplinarity in research and education. While it is most challenging a climate in which we find ourselves, we think that there has not been a better time to consider, anew, and with persistent care, the paths, claims and challenges of inter/disciplinarity in legal research (and by extension education more broadly). If interdisciplinarity is not to be or remain an empty signifier, yet another fashionable façade of progress and innovation (or even the latest desperate attempt to de-socialise and isolate knowledge), we need to ask what becomes of/in interdisciplinary formations and deformations of knowledge?