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Article

Access_open The Relationship between Empirical Legal Studies and Doctrinal Legal Research

Journal Erasmus Law Review, Issue 2 2020
Keywords empirical legal studies, legal research methods, doctrinal legal research, new legal realism, critical legal studies, law and policy
Authors Gareth Davies
AbstractAuthor's information

    This article considers how empirical legal studies (ELS) and doctrinal legal research (DLR) interact. Rather than seeing them as competitors that are methodologically independent and static, it suggests that they are interdependent activities, which may each be changed by interaction with the other, and that this change brings both opportunities and threats. For ELS, the article argues that DLR should properly be understood as part of its theoretical framework, yet in practice little attention is given to doctrine in empirical work. Paying more attention to DLR and legal frames generally would help ELS meet the common criticism that it is under-theorised and excessively policy oriented. On the other hand, an embrace of legal thinking, particularly of critical legal thinking, might lead to loss of status for ELS in policy circles and mainstream social science. For DLR, ELS offers a chance for it to escape the threat of insular sterility and irrelevance and to participate in a founded commentary on the world. The risk, however, is that in tailoring legal analysis to what can be empirically researched legal scholars become less analytically ambitious and more safe, and their traditionally important role as a source of socially relevant critique is weakened. Inevitably, in offering different ways of moving to normative conclusions about the law, ELS and DLR pose challenges to each other, and meeting those challenges will require sometimes uncomfortable self-reflection.


Gareth Davies
Gareth Davies is Professor of European Law at the Faculty of Law of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

    The paper offers a legal theoretical analysis of the disciplinary character of the contemporary practice of legal scholarship. It is assumed that the challenges of interdisciplinary engagement are particularly revealing about the nature of legal scholarship. The paper argues for an understanding of legal scholarship that revolves around cultivating doctrinal knowledge about law. Legal scholarship is characterised as a normative and interpretive discipline that offers an internalist and non-instrumentalist perspective on law. The paper also argues that interdisciplinary engagement is sometimes necessary for legal scholars because some concepts and ideas built into the doctrinal structures of law cannot be made fully intelligible by way of pure normative legal analysis. This point is developed with the help of an epistemological clarification of doctrinal knowledge and anchored in an account of the practice of legal scholarship. The paper explores the implications of this account by way of analysing three paradigms of interdisciplinary engagement that respond to distinctive challenges facing legal scholarship: (1) understanding better the extra-legal origins of legal ideas, (2) managing discursive encounters that can generate frictions between disciplinary perspectives, and (3) building the knowledge base to handle challenge of validating policy initiatives that aim at changing the law. In different ways, all three challenges may require legal scholars to build competence in other disciplines. The third paradigm has particular relevance for understanding the methodological profile of legal scholarship. Legal scholarship is the only discipline with specific focus on how the social environment affects the doctrinal structures of law.


Matyas Bodig
Dr Matyas Bodig is Senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen School of Law, Aberdeen, UK.

    This article sets out to contribute to the special issue devoted to multi-disciplinary legal research by discussing first the limits of purely doctrinal legal research in relation to a particular topic and second the relevant considerations in devising research that (inter alia) draws on non-legal, auxiliary disciplines to ‘fill in’ and guide the legal framework. The topic concerned is the (analysis of the) fundamental rights of minorities.
    The article starts with a long account of the flaws in the current legal analysis of the European Court of Human Rights regarding minorities’ rights, particularly the reduction in its analysis and the related failure to properly identify and weigh all relevant interests and variables. This ‘prelude’ provides crucial insights in the causes of the flaws in the Court’s jurisprudence: lack of knowledge (about the relevant interests and variables) and concerns with the Court’s political legitimacy.
    The article goes on to argue for the need for multi-disciplinary legal research to tackle the lack of knowledge: more particularly by drawing on sociology (and related social sciences) and political philosophy as auxiliary disciplines to identify additional interests and variables for the rights analysis. The ensuing new analytical framework for the analysis of minorities’ rights would benefit international courts (adjudicating on human rights) generally. To operationalise and refine the new analytical framework, the research should furthermore have regard to the practice of (a selection of) international courts and national case studies.


Kristin Henrard
Professor of minorities and fundamental rights at the Erasmus School of Law.

Kristin Henrard
Professor of Minority Protection and Associate Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Fons Coomans
UNESCO Chair in Human Rights and Peace, Faculty of Law, Maastricht University.
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