Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lingering Summer Dreams: Berlin and the Future of Socio-Legal Studies

Its been more then a month since the close of the Joint Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA) and the Research Committee on Sociology of Law (RCSL of ISA) at Humboldt University in Berlin but my imagination remains lingering on Unter des Lindens, the broad boulevard of 18th Century Berlin that was also the main street of the former Democratic Republic (East Germany). The meeting was an extraordinary success bringing together the largest and most international group of participants ever for a Law & Society meeting domestic or abroad. As a long time member of the LSA, which despite efforts to internationalize remains largely North American and largely US, it was stunning to be in so many sessions where US participants were a minority (even if a disproportionately large one). The extraordinary range of scholarship and in some cases the grandeur of the 18th century lecture halls of old Humboldt (you could imagine Marx slumbering in back of one of Hegel's lectures on a hot summer day) seemed to influence the US scholars I heard who were less inclined to speak of "the" Supreme Court or Congress as if all audiences for socio-legal studies lived in the US. Hearing scholars from countries almost never represented at US meetings, like from Palestine and Iran, also convinced me that a global discourse of socio-legal studies now exists, a robust empiricism that is critical but optimistic about law.

Berlin itself seemed a canvass of those possibilities. The new architecture of reunification is startling and reassuring. The massive new chancellery rises above the river, but its cupola is glass and inside you can see individual people working their way up a circular staircase. The Brandenburg Tor, symbol of Berlin as an Imperial capital, has the Holocaust memorial next door. The city itself, no longer cut by walls and police towers, seemed to be truly a city of law, teeming streets of strangers, remarkably safe with little evidence of either crime or police repression.

Congratulations to my colleague Malcolm Feeley, whose two year presidency of the Law & Society Association was capped by this extraordinary meeting and city