The NSF Grant Will Help Build International Research Collaborations and Provide Funding for Junior Sociolegal Scholar Activities

AMHERST, Mass. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Law & Science has awarded the Law and Society Association (LSA) a $298,500 grant to support the Association’s continued role in cultivating a global field of law and society. The grant will help fund, facilitate and foster international collaboration projects and other activities among international scholars that will take place leading up to and during LSA’s 2022 Annual Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal. It marks the fourth time in 14 years that the NSF provided the Association with this grant.

The NSF grant will also assist LSA in its commitment to mentoring early career sociolegal scholars, especially those residing in low and middle-income countries. Junior scholar activities preceding the Lisbon conference will include joint mentorship development workshops to share methods, materials and approaches for supporting early career scholars’ research. These initiatives will also feature a series of early career workshops hosted by partner associations and LSA, from which junior scholars will be drawn for travel support to attend the Annual Meeting in Lisbon.

“Primarily, this grant will help develop an emerging world-wide sociolegal field guided by three principles,” said incoming LSA Secretary Eve Darian-Smith, who served as the Principal Investigator for the NSF grant proposal. “The first is moving scholarship beyond the taken-for-granted framing of the nation-state, both theoretically and methodologically. The second is thinking critically about enduring legacies of colonialism and racism. And the third is taking seriously sociolegal knowledge produced outside the Euro-American academy.”

The NSF grant will be instrumental in helping sociolegal scholars from around the world provide insight and better understand complex social and legal issues. Legal processes and influences transcend national borders through numerous social problems, such as illegal trade of endangered species, terrorism, human trafficking, climate change and pandemics to name a few. The ability to deal effectively with global and transnational issues like these must be based on a deep understanding of local, regional, national and global interactions, such as the collaborations facilitated at LSA Annual Meetings.

Due to the global impact of what may seem like local legal developments, it is important to have a field that could apply sociolegal analysis everywhere. However, in countries that lack the capacity needed to illuminate globally-relevant local developments, a sociolegal deficit persists. LSA, therefore, identified three objectives for the Lisbon conference and the grant to address: dealing with the sociolegal deficit, enhancing communication capacity and strengthening the study of global forces.

“This grant shows that the NSF recognizes the Association’s global mission,” explained David Trubek, who co-chairs LSA’s International Activities Committee and served as Co-PI for the grant proposal. “We made clear to the NSF that we are helping build a world-wide sociolegal field. Because our societies are interdependent and interrelated, we all have an interest in knowing about laws’ impact around the world, and LSA has a duty to work with sociolegal scholars and groups everywhere to enhance overall global capacity.”

Back in 2007, the NSF helped support LSA’s inaugural launch of its International Research Collaborative (IRC) program for its conference in Berlin, Germany. IRCs—interdisciplinary networks of global scholars who accomplish a specific project—have been essential in helping communities around the world strengthen their own sociolegal capacities and increase the effectiveness of scholarly communication across national borders. They promote valuable collaborative research with scientific rigor and relevance and create opportunities for scholars to share and communicate research to audiences at LSA meetings and other venues.

From a theoretical point of view, these cross-disciplinary and cross-national networks bring wider and more inclusive perspectives to the problems they address. These exchanges help ensure that knowledge produced in the U.S. remains relevant and applicable to rapidly changing geopolitical contexts. In focusing on concrete, specific, self-contained projects, IRCs produce tangible results, such as edited volumes, book chapters, symposia, and articles to be published in scientific and academic journals.

“Since establishing the IRC on Natural Resource Governance, Inequality and Human Rights in 2015, I have greatly benefited from the cross-cutting, cross-jurisdictional scholarly conversations the program has enabled,” noted Julia Dehm, a senior Lecturer at the La Trobe Law School in Australia. “The IRC has convened panels at LSA meetings in New Orleans (2016), Mexico City (2017), Toronto (2018) and Washington DC (2019), and thereby nurtured a community of scholars, supported collaborative publication efforts and pushed our thinking on urgent questions about how resource extraction in many cases is perpetuating structural inequalities and leading to rights violations.”

“As a recipient and a coordinator of an IRC, I can attest to the very great impact it has on scholars,” added Azubike Onuora-Oguno of the University of Ilorin in Nigeria. “The IRC has opened me up to a very wide range of sociolegal scholars and gave me an opportunity to collaborate. I have published a book, edited a book volume and have been part of three special journal volumes. These publications are all in collaboration with scholars I have met within the network of the LSA-IRC initiative.”

Over the course of a decade, the NSF helped the Association double its IRC program in size, supporting 106 scholars from 19 countries that joined the proceedings in LSA’s Mexico City conference (2017). This resulted in nearly 30 substantial and important publications reflecting significant advances in sociolegal studies. Having started with 20 groups, LSA currently houses 41 IRCs in 2021. The NSF grant will provide a much-needed expansion of funds to support the work of the IRCs, especially by subsidizing travel support for scholars from the global South and low and middle-income countries to make the trip to Lisbon in 2022.

“Rather than serving as one-off conference sessions, the IRCs help build long-term scholarly communities that strengthen the field of law and society,” said LSA Executive Director Steven Boutcher. “These efforts inherently enrich the sociolegal field for U.S.-based scholars, while expanding the field elsewhere around the world.”

The Law and Society Association is well positioned to help facilitate a collaborative, global sociolegal field and carry out the tasks to be supported by the NSF grant. International in scope, LSA’s Annual Meetings provide unparalleled opportunities for law and society scholars to connect and exchange ideas. Over the past 30 years, LSA has increasingly become the global meeting place for the sociolegal field, with increasing participation by international scholars. At its most recent in-person conference in 2019, 40% of the attendees resided outside of the US, representing 65 countries and spanning six continents. In 2021, LSA’s international membership has increased by 33% from a year ago. This makes LSA not only the largest, but also the most international sociolegal association in the world.

In addition to Professors Darian-Smith and Trubek, LSA would like to recognize Dee Smythe and Manuel A. Gomez for serving as co-PIs during the NSF grant proposal process. To learn more about LSA and its international activities, please visit us at



Author Greg Barlow

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