Bettina Lange, Barbara Havelkova, Alice Schneider, João Loreto Ilhão Moreira

The purpose of this event is to spark debate about one of the most fundamental questions we can ask about socio-legal studies: What is their objective?

This discussion will focus on the debate about the potential tension between, on the one hand, socio-legal studies promoting a ‘progressive’, idealist social justice agenda that speaks to the development of public policy and reform of the law. From this perspective socio-legal studies should uncover and critique unjust inequalities of power. On the other hand, socio-legal studies have sought to develop socio-legal theory, thereby also advancing socio-legal studies’ ‘scientific’ credentials and their value as an ‘objective’ distinct academic discipline which develops at a distance from ‘real world’ conflicts and practice of law.

While these debates have been enduring throughout the development of socio-legal studies they assume particular significance again in the context of current affairs, such as the negotiation of an international agreement for combating climate change in December 2015 in Paris and the enduring risks of terrorism. What can socio-legal researchers contribute to the urgent public policy debates about how to stabilize society and democratic legal institutions in the face of environmental and security crises? What are the consequences for socio-legal scholarship of engaging with actual political and legal conflicts? The discussion will address these and related questions and thus explore the potential for and limitations of socio-legal studies as engaged political practice.

In order to facilitate debate we recommend prior reading of two key articles in the field: