Methodology and Methods Roundtable: At the Crossroads of Interdisciplinary Methods and Conversations

By Kent Law School PhD candidates Allison Lindner and Steve Crawford

On Thursday 4 April 2019, the first Methods and Methodology Roundtable of the annual SLSA conference presented a thought-provoking and enlightening discussion hypothesising how varying legal academics might approach a paper for an edited collection: Bodies. The panel was chaired by Professor Davina Cooper (KCL), and comprised Dr Thanos Zartaloudis, Professor Helen Carr, Professor Emilie Cloatre, Professor Amanda Perry-Kessaris, and Dr Suhraiya Jivraj, (all from Kent Law School). The scenario proposed five questions: what is your first thought? Where would you decide to start and why (What would be your questions; and why)? What’s your next step and why? What are your ‘go to’ literatures, and their limitations? Finally, how might the rest of this task unfold, reflecting on how different choices could influence the process?

Participants had ten minutes to share their perspectives before the chair invited audience participation. Answers to the questions were quirky – some addressed each question in turn, others responded through storytelling and examples – leading to stimulating discussion throughout. This flexible approach to conversing about interdisciplinary methods facilitated discussion beyond theoretical considerations relevant to each field represented; allowing for themes to emerge in respect of bodies, internal and external pressures on research and research methodologies.

On bodies

Across the panel, the body was defined as human, animal, or anthropomorphic. In different ways, each discussant recognised the universal relatability of the concept of the body. Beyond this, disparate methods applied from different areas of law, to the same questions, elucidated distinct and valid conceptions of how the body can be approached and understood.

Thanos Zartaloudis, informed by his work with philosophy and ancient Greece, explained that despite a radically different understanding ancient Greek fear of the body contributed to the modern distinction between body and soul. Pre-juridical ancient Greek practices of supplication and petitions for protection, which included specific postures and gestures such as touching or kissing the hands, are understood to be the root practices of asylum.

Amanda Perry-Kessaris related the body to two of her areas of expertise. In design mode, she creates clay figures based on prehistoric artefacts which she uses as a way to physically think things through with Cypriot research participants. Use of clay figures with people in conflict has helped to shift focus from the human body, to the representative clay figure. In her work on the economic life of law, the body is an actor which can carry out a belief-related action with the head, an instrumental action with the hand or an affective action with the heart.

Emilie Cloatre often focuses on the body in her work at the crossroads of law and medical anthropology/sociology. She is interested in how bodies function; are affected by different types of healing paradigms; are valued and devalued, gendered and racialized through treatment; and are impacted by regulation, laws and pain. She thinks about how law and medicine imagine bodies, and how far it is useful to do so in isolated ways.

Helen Carr is interested in the relationship between the body and the fields of social justice, housing law, and poor people’s law. She traces the relational history between housing regulations and the minimum room size to overcrowded Crimean War army barracks. The requirement of at least 6.5 square metres, has subsequently been applied to the bodies of prisoners and prostitutes. Law, she finds, can act to disembody these categories of people. Suhraiya Jivraj shared observations from her work on decolonising the curriculum. The ‘marking’ of a body is tied to its valuation. Bodies can reveal something about parallel systems of regulation, such as the applicability of Prevent regulation to Muslim bodies. It shows that legal pluralism can be problematic. This was articulated in some participants’ reluctance to engage with the process of obtaining consent.

On interdisciplinarity and being caught between disciplines

Thanos Zartaloudis suggests that lawyers have a lot to learn from architects: architects are trained to see objects, whereas lawyers are trained to read texts. This distinction has taught him that lawyers do not need to be as completist as they want to be when working across disciplines.

For Amanda Perry-Kessaris, the legal and the economic are both co-constructed, neither exists in a vacuum, making it impossible to separate the two if you wish to be holistic. Her work on the legal/economic has become increasingly visualised over the years, leading further qualifications in visual communication. This form of interdisciplinarity has made her work more experimental (practical, quizzical and imaginative) and enjoyable.

Emilie Cloatre has experienced being the token lawyer contributing within workshops and edited collections. This has led her to think carefully about where law fits for the medical anthropologist/sociologist and where medical anthropology/sociology fits for the lawyer within interdisciplinary communities. Using narratives rather than concepts helps create connections between disciplines.

On go to literatures

The literatures of choice are varied and context dependant. Thanos Zartaloudis draws on ancient Greece, using Homer as key source material, and legal philosophy when thinking about the body.  Amanda Perry-Kessaris returns to the work of Roger Cotterrell because his work is empirically relevant, though not derived from empirical research. Emilie Cloatre uses a combination of literatures from cosmopolitics; medical history, science, anthropology; Science and Technology Studies; and Actor Network Theory to reconcile the empirical, the conceptual and the normative. Helen Carr draws on Foucauldian genealogy in her research into law’s contribution to the relationship between social justice and the body. Suhraiya Jivraj uses critical race theory in her work on race, religion and law.

Audience Discussion and Lessons learned

The lively audience discussion generated several points of learning. Have confidence in your research, and experiment! Provided you clearly situate yourself, there are benefits to investigating cross-disciplinary perspectives; this can also help to combat imposter syndrome. It’s OK to not know everything about one particular discipline – with interdisciplinary work you are working across fields and so your work will occupy a niche. Purposely-designed interdisciplinary projects are increasingly common, institutionally-approved, and enticing to funding bodies. Be genuine in your work, and be cognisant of communicating clearly to your intended audience. We have a responsibility to present ourselves and our contribution accurately. However, we should trust the intelligence, interest and generosity of our audience, who may seek similar creative interventions into their own disciplines. Ethical considerations, academic bureaucracy and funding body priorities all represent real pressures on research/ers. Conversations about these influences upon research/ers should be public among researchers.

Listen to a recording of this roundtable at the top of the page.

This post was originally posted on the SLSABlog, the official blog of the SLSA (Socio-Legal Studies Association).