Legal philosophers are often criticised for being out of touch with legal practice. At best, their theories provide a highly abstract but dated understanding of what law is. In a recent prize-winning book entitled A Realistic Theory of Law legal philosopher Brian Tamanaha argues that this often heard critique is true. Many legal philosophers fail to adequately explain how law and legal institutions function: they rarely succeed in addressing the current social context in which law is made and applied. Tamanaha maintains that this lack of attention to the complexity of legal practice is endemic to the field of jurisprudence today, but considers a particular jurisprudential strand of thought to be responsible for this neglect. As he explains: “Jurisprudence in recent decades has become increasingly abstract, specialized, and narrow. Analytical jurisprudence, dominated by legal positivists, has traveled the furthest in this direction.” If legal philosophers, and in particular those who are part of the analytical tradition of jurisprudence, fail to take law in context seriously, what aspects of legal practice should they be concerned with? In this blog, I critically assess Tamanaha’s realistic approach to law and contrast it with the approach I take in my recently defended doctoral thesis. Although I agree with Tamanaha’s critique of contemporary jurisprudence, I argue that legal theories that are out of touch with legal practice should be amended and further developed.
Insight into social psychology is relevant for the understanding of how the law works in courtrooms, how people perceive the law as a legal system, and how officials function in several legal contexts, such as in the areas of legal decision making, law making, and law enforcement. In other words, social psychology is needed to understand how the law works (or law in action). Furthermore, in part because both social psychology and law share an emphasis on behavioural regulation, notions about how the law should work (or law in the books) can also profit from an understanding of basic principles of social psychology. Importantly, insights into the social psychology of law are not merely an application of basic social psychological principles in legal contexts. Rather, studying social psychology and the law often provides insights that may well feed into basic social psychological research. Thus, both law and social psychology can learn from each other. In this blog I reflect on the two-way street between law and social psychology.
Dr. Erie Tanja, postdoctoral researcher
Nowadays, when talking about scientific research, the call to make it multi- or interdisciplinary, is never far away. Although the terms are often mixed up or used interchangeably, there is a difference. Multidisciplinary research is about ‘simply’ combining insights from different disciplines; interdisciplinary research is the ‘symbiosis of disciplinary questions, methods and outcome measures’, transforming scientific identities in the process (De Jonge Akademie 2015). As so many researchers are trying to find out how to go from mono- to multi- and interdisciplinary research, it is necessary to share experiences and insights to prevent all of us from unnecessarily reinventing the wheel. In this blog, I want to do just that. Sharing my personal experience and viewpoints, means n=1 and that the perspective is inherently subjective. In the social sciences, such results would not merit much attention. But sharing and comparing experiences will help other researchers that conduct multi- or interdisciplinary research to find the way forward.