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Envisioning a Global Sociolegal field: networks, institutions, frameworks, concepts
by Eve Darian Smith and Gregory Shaffer
As part of LSA 50th anniversary committee, we have been charged with thinking about the prospects for a more dynamic, inclusive, and interactive global sociolegal field. The committee is interested in hearing from scholars around the world about the state of their sociolegal communities and home institutions, and how they might expand the dialogic reach of their current research programs through exchange with those from other countries. What are the possibilities for building transnational networks, affiliations and collaborations? What could a global sociolegal community look like? How could it be fostered? What are the major challenges and hurdles to overcome? In what ways would global networks of scholars be relevant to and speak to different issues? Would they be relevant to local and domestic ones? To what degree might these networks be truly interdisciplinary and integrate humanistic and social science perspectives, or would they only work between scholars situated in the same disciplines?
The first question to be addressed is whether a desire for a global sociolegal field is an aspiration shared by scholars in different countries. How, in particular, do scholars from the global south feel about the prospect of such enhanced networks? What are the benefits to be gained and what are the risks?
In envisioning the possibilities of a global sociolegal field, there must be genuine desires on behalf of all participants to learn from each other. In particular, scholars from the global north and global south, as well as among the global north and global south, ideally should engage reciprocally with the theoretical and substantive contributions of each other. Otherwise such networks run the risk of simply recapitulating old models of expansionary epistemological imperialism, even with the best intentions. The study of plural theories, intellectual approaches, legal systems and laws should be all valuable in the forging of global sociolegal conversations.
If such networks are to flourish in a reciprocally beneficial way for their participants, there may need to be some structures in place to ensure inclusivity and resist scholars with more resources setting the terms and driving the direction of intellectual exchange. One idea is to establish a decentralized network or forum that could help facilitate global intellectual conversations and identify trends, innovations and emerging issues. Such a network could develop funding streams and pool resources to support scholarly exchanges via a website, teleconferencing, face-to-face meetings, workshops, and so forth. What would such a network look like, who would be involved, and what resources may be available are questions that require thoughtful reflection and consideration.
One possibility that we put forward for consideration is to seek LSA seed funding, possibly combined with NSF funding, for meetings every two years in a particular region outside of the United States. These meetings could take place during a year between the large LSA international meetings. The planning committee for such meeting could consist of a combination of members of the region with other LSA scholars. The conference could be based on a theme determined by the planning committee, which could also issue a call for proposals in order to receive bottom up, outside input regarding the theme or subthemes, such as from the CRNs in LSA, as well as networks in the region. In this way, law and society meetings would be held outside of the U.S. more frequently, and not just once every five years. These meetings could also help integrate younger foreign scholars to a greater extent in all LSA meetings.
Does this option make sense to pursue? Is it worth trying to obtain resources to catalyze such a development? How could it be structured so that it would sustained and not collapse as a one-shot effort? What other complementary or alternative options should be considered?
Please help us to explore this and other possible options. Let us and the broader LSA community know your thoughts, ideas, proposals, and experiences. Thank you for your engagement.