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Birzeit Legal Encounter - "Law, Politics, Social Sciences"

As a part of the lecture series “Legal Encounter” which is based on the cooperation between the Institute of Law (IoL) of Birzeit University and the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation (KAS) Ramallah, Prof. Jaques Comaille, Head of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research at Vaucresson and Emertitus Professor at Ecole Normal Superieure de Cachan hold a lecture on “Law, Politics, Social Science”.

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Comaille emphasised on the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to research in our changing world. He explained that the interdisciplinary approach to law has grown out of the work of early sociologists that questioned and challenged the idea that law is a matter that concerns only lawyers and judges. They argued that law as phenomena could and should be investigated by sociologists and social scientists, and that the nature, the role and implications of law need to be examined in a social context. Conceptions of what law is are historically and culturally specific, contrary to legal theories that often claim a positivist pure theory of law.

The disciplines that are challenging the idea of law being a closed and static system include sociology, philosophy, psychology, political science and anthropology. For instance, from the anthropological point of view, law is a relative system. Anthropologists consider that there are as many ways of thinking about law as there are ways of thinking about the world and society.

Such an interdisciplinary understanding of the law, according to Commaille, entails the rejection of the usual division of labour which allocates to lawyers and jurists the task of analysing law as doctrine (norms, rules, principles, concepts and their mode of interpretation and validation), and to sociologists the task of looking at it as behaviour, in terms of causes. He pleads for going back to the founders of the sociology of law (Weber, Durkheim, among others) who made law and legal doctrine central to their sociological concerns in this field. It is now recognized that legal ideas need to be understood as the outcome of historical, cultural, political or professional conditions which sociological studies are able to describe and explain.

The speaker also develops the idea that, contrary to what most lawyers think, socio-legal studies can give insight into the nature of legal ideas and contribute to a better understanding of legal doctrine. The sociological understanding of the law is not only possible but necessary. Prof. Commaille asserts that a multidisciplinary approach to law should not be understood as an adherence to the methods of sociology or political science but rather as to a trans-disciplinary understanding of legal ideas to interpret law as a social phenomenon.

The subsequent discussion was focused on how to apply a multidisciplinary approach to law in the different research endeavours undertaken by research centres, such as the Institute of Law. Also it was questioned how it can be ensured that lawyers, judges and public prosecutors in the formation process can critically assess the legal reform initiatives undertaken by the Palestinian Authority in a context, that is shaped by uncertainty.

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