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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Overview of ABF Research (Part III): Law & Globalization and Legal History

In this last post on ABF research, let me describe two parts of our research portfolio that reflect both our sense of the past and our transnational perspective on the present.  From its founding in the 1950s through today, the ABF has been focused on studying how law, legal institutions, and legal processes operate across place and time.  Our scholarship and programming on law & globalization and our work in legal history reflect these enduring commitments.

Let me start with a brief description of our research on law & globalization.

Law & Globalization

Globalization, to be sure, is not a new phenomenon, but it has taken on a greater sense of urgency in recent decades.  Like many academic and research organizations, the ABF has become increasingly interested in the causes and consequences of globalization and its relation to law.  For many years, we have had numerous international faculty members conducting research throughout the world. 

Most recently, our legal sociologists Terry Halliday and Sida Liu have been collaborating on a long-term project about Chinese criminal defense lawyers and their role in political mobilization.  As I’m sure many Prawf readers know the Chinese state in recent years has been intimidating and persecuting Chinese lawyers because of their political activism.  Terry and Sida have conducted hundreds of interviews with Chinese lawyers to learn more about how the everyday work of criminal defense lawyers has become a political project. Drawing on a long line of scholarship about lawyers and political liberalism (much of it written by Terry), their forthcoming book will one of the first to examine empirically how the seemingly ordinary work of criminal defense lawyers in China can have far reaching transnational political and social implications.  Although the book won’t be out for another year or so, this fascinating research has already garnered significant media attention across the globe.

Another area of ABF research on globalization focuses on comparative constitutions.  Our joint-appointee Tom Ginsburg (U. of Chicago Law & ABF) has been at the forefront of research about the origins and international diffusion of rights in national constitutions.  For many years, Tom and his collaborators have been collecting data on the countless constitutions that have been in existence since 1789 to the present (you can learn more about their Comparative Constitutions Project here).  This project has documented the important role of domestic political factors and country characteristics in understanding the development and diffusion of constitutional rights.

While Tom Ginsburg’s research focuses on the material aspects of the rule of law, one of our other colleagues working on globalization, Jothie Rajah, explores the more theoretical underpinnings of rule of law discourse.  Following up on her first book about rule of law in Singapore, Jothie’s latest project analyses the different ways in which global institutional actors (the UN, the World Bank, the International Commission of Jurists, the World Justice Project) define “rule of law.”  Through a close reading of the texts and practices of these institutions, Jothie analyzes the development of global norms and the efficacy of rule of law indicators.

ABF research on globalization also examines the diffusion of legal rules across nation-states.  Our joint-appointee Carol Heimer (ABF/Northwestern Sociology) is studying how laws, regulations and other rules are actually used in HIV research and treatment in the United States, Uganda, South Africa, and Thailand.  Her book project investigates what happens when laws, regulations, and guidelines, admittedly created with the best of intentions, are transported to new sites where they confront the realities of medical care, clinical research, and healthcare administration in developing countries.  Carol is currently finishing up a fellowship year at Stanford’s Center on Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, where she is completing her book manuscript.

Legal History

In addition to our work on Law & Globalization, the ABF has also had a long tradition of research on legal history, writ large.  Many years ago, the ABF had a Legal History Society of some kind that hosted regular events advancing scholarship in legal history.  Although the formal society doesn’t exist anymore, the ABF continues to play an important role in supporting and promoting legal history.  From our faculty members like Vicky Woeste, whose recent research focuses on hate speech (here’s a link to her latest book on Henry Ford and Hate Speech), to our regular Chicago-area seminar on legal history, to our recent support for a junior scholars conference on Law in Capitalism, the ABF remains committed to supporting innovative and influential research on how law and legal institutions have operated in the past, and on how these historical legacies continue to influence the present.

Indeed, our recent conference, which was co-hosted by the University of Chicago Law School, and supported by a consortium of schools and the American Society for Legal History, brought together a stellar group of junior scholars working at the intersection of law and the new histories of capitalism.  These advanced grad students and junior faculty members had a chance to share their work and receive feedback from senior scholars in the field.  We were delighted to host this group at our Chicago location, and we look forward to having more ABF events on legal history.

Like the other categories I’ve discussed earlier, these two ABF research streams are just examples of a much deeper body of scholarship.  To learn more about our research, please visit our website.

Now that I’ve given readers a sense of the type of empirical and interdisciplinary research the ABF conducts, perhaps in my last post (if I haven’t already over stayed my welcome as a guest blogger) I can address a couple of pragmatic issues about ABF funding and the role that legal academics play in both supporting and helping disseminate ABF research.

Posted by Ajay K. Mehrotra on June 30, 2016 at 06:37 PM in Books, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink

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