Humboldt University and Free University of Berlin

2007 International Meeting in Berlin, Germany (w/ RCSL & other co-sponsors)

July 25-28


Law and Society in the 21st Century: Transformations, Resistances, Futures

We invite you to join colleagues from around the world to reflect on the law and society in the 21st century. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is commonly evoked as the symbolic beginning of the 21st century, so it is fitting that we are holding this meeting in Berlin.

The theme of the meeting, Law and Society in the 21st Century: Transformations, Resistances, Futures, is intended to encourage debate on the transformations that are redefining law and society in the new century. This period of rapid change and transformation has been marked by resistance as well as adaptation. In order to imagine the future, we invite you to consider these transformations and spaces of resistance.


“New Governance” and Its Critics: New forms of governance operate alongside coercive state legal structures.  Many scholars see promise in this “new governance” that relies on non-binding principles and coordination mechanisms, multiple, often competing rule-making and adjudication bodies, and expanded participatory, information sharing, and decisional procedures.  On the other hand, skeptics abound.

Violence, Human Rights, and Gender:  Gender, violence, and human rights interventions intersect in various ways under conditions of war, trafficking, and domestic violence.  These intersections include recognizing sexual violence as a weapon of war and genocide, analyzing the relationships between war and gender-based violence at home, and examining the responses to these human rights violations through international courts and reconciliation procedures in post-war situations.

Transitional Justice: Memory and Reconciliation:  Since 1945, transitional justice has followed the fall of National Socialism in Germany, authoritarian right-wing juntas in Southern Europe and Latin America, communist totalitarianism in Central Eastern Europe, and dictatorships in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  It sought to heal the violence of apartheid in South Africa and ethnic “cleansing” in the Balkans and Rwanda.  Transitional justice faces a tension between recognizing the extent of involvement of the population in the past regime and the need to reestablish social solidarity and, if possible, democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights. Understanding how this can be accomplished is a major challenge for the 21st century.

Torture and the Security State:  In the 21st century, torture has been openly resurrected as a “legitimate” tactic for “fighting terrorism” and “enhancing security” by the US government.  What makes 21st century torture distinctive from past practices is that the world’s lone superpower, ostensibly a model for the rule of law, has abandoned a universal consensus on the illegality of brutalizing prisoners.  Theorizing the implications of the security state for forms of policing and the use of torture is an issue that now has global significance.

Revisiting the Sacred/Secular Divide: The Legal Story:  In the 21st century, the role of secularism in law has taken on new dimensions.  The history of modern secularization of law, the philosophical delineations of the impossibility or undesirability of separationist legal ideologies, and empirical investigation and creative re-imaginings of the actual regulation of religious persons, places, and ways of life are all relevant to understanding the new relationships between the sacred and the secular in law.

Transformation in Crime and Punishment—From Local to Global: Globalization processes, such as transplants and “border crossings” of ideas, practices, policies, and economies, are changing the crime control/penological landscape.  At the same time, local criminal justice/penological change takes shape in local settings that limit globalizing influences on local systems.

Transnational Legal Orders: Transnational organizations, like the UN, World Bank, and OECD, together with national legislatures and international companies, have fostered an expansion and homogenization of legal and normative standards on the global level.  Changes are occurring in both public and private legal orders.  Actors in this process are not only national or supranational law-makers (like the EU), but are also non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations.

Race in the 21st Century: Laws, state policies, and public discourse on race in democratic societies continue to affect the experience of discrete racial minorities in democratic states.  The manifestations of racism and state responses to it in various settings are a critical problem for contemporary democratic societies.

Globalization and Law in the Global South: The specific implications of the many varieties of globalization for understanding legal communities and legal consciousness in the Global South are not well understood by socio-legal scholars in the North. In tandem with the globalization of markets and governance, there is a growing need for communication, collaboration, and cross-pollination among scholars from different regions, and especially between scholars from the “North” and “South.”


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