Legal Research and the Social Sciences
Law Quarterly Review, 2006
Posted: 10 Jul 2006
Four overlapping research agendas form the bulk of current academic legal scholarship in Britain. First, the understanding and internal coherence of legal concepts and legal reasoning, how legal concepts fit together, the consistency of the use of concepts in different areas of law, the extent to which general principles can be extracted from legal reasoning that can be used to predict or guide future legal decision-making. Second, the meaning and validity of law, the examination of what makes law different from, or similar to, other normative systems. Typically, this has involved questions such as: "What is law?" "How far are issues of ethics or morality part of legal reasoning?" "How does a set of normative principles come to be thought of as 'legal'"? "How does law differ from other social institutions and practices?" Third, the ethical and political acceptability of public policy delivered though legal instruments, the consideration of issues such as whether specific legal interventions are acceptable when assessed against external moral, ethical or political principles, or what should be the appropriate legal response where none exists at the moment. Policy prescription is thus often encountered in legal scholarship, sometimes addressed to the courts, sometimes to policy makers in government. Fourth, the effect of law. What effect, if any, does law have on human behaviour, attitudes, and actions? How does it have these effects? Are some institutional mechanisms for delivering legal outcomes more appropriate or effective than others? Each of these four sets of issues can be studied in a purely domestic legal context, such as England and Wales, or at the European level, internationally or comparatively, as a contemporary issue, or historically. Which, if any, of these questions engage a legal academic in "social scientific" research?
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