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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Conference Formats

Dan's post referencing the conference format at Law & Society brings to mind a thought that I've had over the last couple of days, as I've attended a conference of Administrative Law scholars at Laval University in Quebec.  The two-day conference here is in the manner of a roundtable, where a few weeks prior to gathering the participants (about 15 of us) exchange short papers on pre-determined admin law topics.  At the conference itself each participant gets a couple of minutes to present his paper, after which the paper is discussed for 20 or 30 minutes.  Sometimes two papers are presented and discussed together, either for time purposes or because they're good fits.

I have participated in conferences like this before, and I usually find it a great experience.  Everyone has read the paper, and, indeed, may have written on a closely related topic, so all the participants are able to offer informed critiques.  The relatively intimate nature of the attendance also makes it possible to get into some good discussions, while minimizing posturing or showing off.

Of course the format has its downsides.  Most notably, it's inherently limited in terms of attendance.  But it strikes me that other conferences -- most notably, AALS -- should consider some variations on the standard "five talking heads at the podium" format that predominates.  That kind of format may be appropriate for a lot of the presentations at a large-scale conference, but it seems to me that a mix of presentation formats, such as the one I described above, can freshen up what otherwise quickly becomes an alienating and boring series of quasi-lectures.  I have been to presentations at AALS where the speakers do try to open things up, but those efforts are rare, and not officially sponsored, so far as I recall.  I hope the organizers of AALS and other large organizations start giving some thought to mixing up presentation formats, taking into account the natural limitations of a large-attendance event.

Posted by Bill Araiza on May 27, 2010 at 10:16 AM | Permalink

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