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Building bridges between disciplines: Multidisciplinary understandings of legal academia

Priaulx, Nicolette ORCID: and Weinel, Martin 2017. Building bridges between disciplines: Multidisciplinary understandings of legal academia. Presented at: Law and Society Association, Mexico City, Mexico, 19-23 July 2017. -.

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How do actors across a range of academic fields understand, value and engage with the work of legal academics. How do other disciplinary actors conceptualise the usefulness, skills and expertise of the legal academic and the theoretical and practical relevance of ‘law’ for their own work? What do other disciplinary actors know about law and legal scholarship? At the heart of this paper are concerns which lie at the heart of the notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’ and the kind of knowledge and insight necessary to ‘build bridges’ between disciplines. This paper presents initial findings from a project investigating how other disciplines regard the legal academy and the value of academic legal work and legal perspectives for their work. This has not, despite Becher’s (1981) fascinating exploration of disciplinary cultures in the US and a significant body of socio-legal work around ‘legal consciousness’ exploring ‘the impact of legal phenomena on a range of social institutions’ (Genn et al, 2006), been subjected to sustained analysis, nor one investigated by the legal academy. The current paper, speaks to a broader effort to address this gap in the research literature and to foster cross-disciplinary understanding. Insofar as lawyers, lawyering or the legal environment constitute interesting research subjects for other disciplines, whether the social sciences, political science, history, science and technology studies or literature, these tend to centralise “pop law” and speak to more professionalised concerns such as advocacy, judging, juries – very often law as it happens within adversarial settings such as the courtroom (Jasanoff 1992). For the social sciences in particular, there is a strong preoccupation with areas like criminal law or tort law, in which sociological categories of interest (e.g. the judge, the courtroom, scientific evidence etc.) emerge. Nevertheless, little, if any of this work tells us about attitudes of non-legal disciplinary actors to the legal academy, or of the kind of imaginaries such actors hold about the purchase and value of the work undertaken within it. Some have highlighted that other disciplines work upon the assumption that ‘academic lawyers are only interested in what law-makers actually do’ (Siems, 2009), or that law is primarily ‘a practical and not an academic subject’ (Siems, 2009: 18). In other works, this absence of understanding of what legal scholars do arises more implicitly; Murphy and Roberts’ (1987, p. 682) highlight that ‘legal theory has failed to provide any significant explanation or justification of what academic lawyers do (as is normally demanded of the theoretical component of a discipline) and thus of what academic law is or might be’. In similar force, Chynoweth (2008) has noted that the failure of ‘legal research community to adequately explain itself to its peers in other disciplines and, in this sense, it can hardly complain if those peers then judge it by standards other than its own’. While some legal scholars have depicted the field of law as one characterised by the ‘lone researcher’ or one which was ‘physically and intellectually isolated from colleagues in the social sciences’ (Hillyard, 2007), the current project sought to investigate whether those ideas had continuing resonance in other disciplines. A growing body of literature highlights the critical importance of interdisciplinarity for law and justice. The issue has become more pressing in recent years due to the growth of scientific and technological innovation which draws into the adjudicative, legislative and policy realms areas of great scientific complexity, for which legal training, in and of itself, proves insufficient (Weinel and Priaulx, 2014; Vick 2004; Schrama 2011). Such works also highlight the significant barriers and obstacles in lawyers ‘understanding’ other disciplines (ones often emerging within legal settings) and the problems that can result. The same dangers confront non-legal disciplinary actors whose work engages with or is ‘dropped into’ law (Mertz, 2011). Disciplines are akin to foreign cultures, with different languages, norms and forms of life, and actors become disciplined and acquire the tacit knowledge inhabiting their fields by virtue of social immersion. It is socialisation within the expert domain which provides the ‘deep understanding’ to be able to ‘know what one is talking about’ (Collins and Evans, 2007); the logical corollary of this, is that a lack of socialisation within target disciplines results in the absence of a deep appreciation of what is going on in other fields. Yet for the delivery of robust policy relevant research, as well as an appreciation of what occurs within legal academia, that interaction between disciplines proves critical. This study constitutes a critical first step for evaluating from a multidisciplinary perspective, insight and understanding into the legal discipline. This paper presents our initial findings of a project funded by the British Academy. We present key themes emerging from a review of how legal academia and the legal academic emerge in popular culture and non-legal scholarship; we also report our initial findings of the central study which surveys the knowledge, attitudes and opinions of non-legal academics. Such work aims to provide a critical foundation for developing strategies to cultivate interdisciplinarity and creative exchange between law and other disciplines.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Cardiff Law & Politics
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Centre for the Study of Knowledge Expertise and Science (KES)
Cardiff Centre for Ethics, Law and Society (CCELS)
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Last Modified: 06 May 2023 02:12

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