Founded in 2013, the Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context (CLSGC) is a home for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research into the global dimensions of law and society.
At its core, the Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context aims to work towards a better theorisation of law in its changing social contexts, exploring the challenges posed for this endeavour by law’s increasingly important global dimensions. We conceive this as an open collaborative project, welcoming the insights of socio-legal and doctrinal scholars working in any area of law. We understand ‘global context’ broadly, encompassing transnational, international, regional, supra-state, and (where relevant) sub-state phenomena. We aim to combine both contemporary and historical approaches, recognising that the global dimension of law and society is, in many respects, not a new phenomenon. We undertake collaborative research and supervise postgraduate research.
Research themes 2018-2021
For the next three years, the Centre will be focusing on the following three research themes:
What is the importance of history to theorising law and society in a global context? The Centre has hosted many Distinguished Visitors (e.g. Christopher Tomlins, Lauren Benton) who have joined us in exploring that question. We have an established tradition of collaboration with the School of History at Queen Mary and especially the Centre for the History of Political Thought, and in that capacity have hosted many symposia on new books in global legal history, e.g. Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford’s Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800-1850, as well as workshops on this theme (e.g. on ‘Literature and the History of International Law’). We are very interested in questions of methodology: what are the key concepts and methods for global historical jurisprudence? In this respect, this theme has close connections with our two further research themes below: e.g. what would a materialist global legal history look like? What historiography is appropriate to historicising relations between law, power and capitalism? What are the temporalities that are most suited to theorising law globally? What, for example, survives in the long durée of law on a global scale?
Of equal interest to us is the following question: what methods and concepts are suited to theorising the spatiality of law and society in a global context? Here, the Centre also has a tradition of collaboration with the Department of Geography at Queen Mary, including co-hosting visitors (e.g. Charles Maier) and workshops (e.g. ‘Territory’s Value’, and a seminar series on ‘Jurisdiction’). We are keen to explore the growing recognition of oceans as an important space for theorising law in a global context, and considering what may be meant by ‘oceanic legal method’. We’re also interested in thinking about regionalism, including what may be meant by ‘regional law’ and ‘regional jurists’. Here, too, there are links to our other research themes, e.g. we are curious about the aesthetics of our conceptions of space, and how these inform method (e.g. how does the aesthetics of archipelagos and channels differ from, say, an aesthetics of blocks and borders?). How are these aesthetic choices linked to norms and values – ethically and politically? How do spatial aesthetics inform our conceptualisation of relations between law, power and capital?
Of course, we do not wish to separate out these two strands of this research theme. On the contrary, we are keen to explore different ways of conceiving of the intertwinement of time and place, e.g. through the concept of chronotypes, or other concepts and methods that recognise that both temporality and spatiality are crucial to theorising law and society in a global context.
Financial crises, austerity, permanent wars, geo-political rivalries, poverty, deepening inequality: the contemporary moment is replete with reminders of the power, indeed the destructive power, of capital. And so is it replete with reminders about the central role of the law in these processes, from the role of international law in the continuous under-development of the Global South, to the role of EU law in entrenching neoliberal policies in Europe to the numerous domestic laws that have set the stage for the overhauling of the Welfare State and the restructuring of economic and private relations. This begs the question, what is the structural relationship between law, power and capital? What form and shape has this relationship taken through different historical conjunctures and configurations of capitalism? How have empires, but also the nation-State, as specific political and legal formations, been linked to the construction and expansion of capitalism? What is the contemporary manifestation of the relationship between law, neoliberal capitalism, and imperialism? What conceptual and ideological divides (public versus private law; international law versus domestic law; politics versus the markets; sovereignty versus private property etc.) would need to be bridged to bring these relationships into focus? What methodological tools would need to be deployed to excavate how law constitutes, structures and reproduces modern capitalism? How do particular legal concepts, rationalities and subjectivities relate to capitalist social relations? What are the legal implications of acknowledging that capitalist social relations are fundamentally power relations and where does that leave the law as a tool of human emancipation? Whilst some strands of legal scholarship, particularly within international law, have long been preoccupied with questions around capitalism, class and political economy, as well as their inter-connections with questions of gender and race, the contemporary moment forces a continuing and more extensive engagement with the role legal processes and doctrines have played in the production and reproduction of the capitalism system, and one that overcomes traditional disciplinary boundaries, including within the discipline of law.
We lawyers are all proficient readers of text, but can we read pictures as well? What about a building? The choreography of everyday routine or high ritual? We, like many others these days, realise that there is more to legal life than language. What we notice or overlook shapes the ways we imagine legal ideals, institutions, practices and norms; and how the law has been represented or decorated by others in the past and elsewhere is a way in to their legal imaginaries, too. We wonder whether it is wise to put aside textual meaning – should we allow our heads to be turned by a glossy new research agenda? If we consider the architecture of a courthouse, the interior design of a legislative assembly, or the paintings hung on law school walls, do we see something new – or just the same thing from a different angle? Are we, as legal researchers, even capable of speaking the idioms of materiality and aesthetics? Must we learn new expert languages, or may we reject them in favour of an intellectual amateurism?