Conference Report: JCL Workshop on the uses of Legal Culture

A workshop on the uses of Legal Culture was held under the auspices of the Journal of Comparative Law from the 20-21st May.

A breathtaking backdrop to proceedings was provided by the choice to host the event in Venice at the kind invitation of Prof. Renzo Cavalieri. The organisers had structured the 2 days in a logical progression from definitional and  theoretical issues surrounding what is, at best, a slippery concept, towards more concrete examples of the various shapes and shades that can be fitted within the concept of a legal culture and how they can aid the legal scholar in their task.

Obviously the concept of culture is a much contested idea that does not immediately sit well within the field of traditional legal analysis but the number and quality of participants and papers demonstrated that the fields of socio-legal studies and comparative law (which many would argue are fundamentally linked) are a well established alternative tradition of scholarship.

The overriding theme of the first day was that it was impossible to give one single definition for the concept of legal culture with Prof Sally Merry's 4-fold schema of the term proving to be an enduringly useful analytical tool over the preceding discussions. We were pointedly reminded by Prof Pierre Legrand of the sociological and cultural 'ghosts' present within any legal text, leading the speaker to make a forceful to claim as to the impossibility of saying something about law without addressing culture and wider society.

The second day saw two parallel sessions covering topics as diverse as the intersections of law, culture and gender; bio-ethics; child abuse; and the litigiousness (or not) of the Dutch. One of these sessions was wholly devoted to law in China covering corporate governance, deviant behavior, policing and the possibility and applicability of legal transplants.

It was fitting that a final plenary session was devoted to a lecture by Prof David Engel discussing 30 years of empirical work on the various legal systems existing within Thailand historically, geographically and perhaps most interestingly spiritually/culturally. In particular the revelation that embedded notions of karma impact heavily on the use of the tort law system, mitigating against bringing an action in favour of seeing your injury as your cosmic due, proved a fascinating coda for the ETL staff present.

The JCL will be publishing a number of the papers in a special edition early next year with a full book collection of the papers hopefully to follow. For those interested in socio-legal studies and comparative law (across many doctrinal fields) this will no doubt prove a valuable read.

ETL Staff Presenting:
Thomas Thiede, The protection of Personality Rights against supranational invasion by Mass Media
Colm McGrath: Culture as Explanation, Medical Error, Development and Legal Cultures in C20th Europe

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