Making sociolegal research more social by design: Anglo-German roots, rewards and risks
Forthcoming 21:6 German Law Journal
25 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2020 Last revised: 5 Jun 2020
Date Written: March 20, 2020
A central theme motivating the 2019 workshop on ‘Socio-Legal Studies in Germany and the UK: Theory and methods’ from which this paper emerged was ‘how academic traditions and institutional contexts have influenced the development of socio-legal research in Germany and the UK’; and whether there exists a ‘typical pathway into and through law and society research’ in each jurisdiction. My current research explores the potential of design to help us to understand and enhance sociolegal research methods. A key insight arising from that research is that designerly ways have the potential to be more inherently ‘social’ than legal ways. Reflecting back on the workshop discussion two questions arise for me—one retrospective and inward-looking, one prospective and outward-looking—around which this paper is structured this paper. Firstly, what signs of Anglo-German life can I find in the literature and practice underpinning my current research into sociolegal research and design? Secondly, might design have a role to play in nurturing a sense of Anglo-German sociolegal community? The combined effect of Anglo-German scholarship and practice is to teach us that a ‘sociological imagination’ is essential if we are to fully understand possible synergies between design and sociolegal research, and the risks and rewards of activating them. At the time of writing, social relations of all kinds are being strained, broken, deepened and reinvented to accommodate the material threats posed by a global pandemic; and all on the back of sustained pressure relations, perhaps especially Anglo-German relations, arising from Brexit; and all in the context of the rise of other nationalistic movements across the world. We cannot know what sociolegal research will or ought to look like in the coming months and years. My own experience of pandemic-lockdowns-as-natural-experiment has made visible to me how important sociomaterial interaction with my sociolegal community is, and reinforced my conviction that we must pay more attention to designing those moments that we are lucky enough to share in person.
Keywords: Legal design, socio-legal methods
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