The Rediscovery of Legal Culture: Legal Scholarship in Germany faces the Challenges of Internationalization and Interdisciplinarity

Over the past two years the Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Science and Humanities) has evaluated in fundamental analysis the structures of legal scholarship in Germany. As a result a bundle of recommendations has been adopted with a special focus on three guiding principles for the strategic orientation of legal research and study in Germany: “Firstly, the foundation subjects of legal scholarship should be given greater priority in order to bring about a shift of emphasis from specialist knowledge to a more comprehensive knowledge of the disciplinary and extra-disciplinary contexts. […] Secondly, the discipline should become more interdisciplinary. […] Thirdly, German legal scholarship needs to become more international both on the level of research itself as well as in terms of its academic personnel.”[1] As was to be expected with regard to Wissenschaftsrat’s authority as the German Federal Government’s most influential advisory body for science policy its programmatic vote has promoted disciplinary debates about the theoretical and methodological objective of legal scholarship. Thereby particularly those voices were strengthened that identify central fields of research in transnational institutional arrangements as well as in normative orders, which are not exclusively related to legal rights.[2] In this context the analytical framework of legal culture, coined since the late 1960s primarily by Lawrence M. Friedman[3], has established itself successfully as a strategic guiding concept for research in Germany, too. This can be seen from the establishment of three project networks in the last five years alone. These joint research projects are to be presented in more detail below. From a conceptual perspective legal culture focuses primarily on different phenomena of multi-normativity – not only in regards to the dynamic interaction of a society’s written and informal rules but also from the point of view of ongoing and accelerating transnationalization of normative orders. Against this background the discipline’s potential opening particularly for methodological impulses from the area studies also explains the establishment of the interdisciplinary postdoctoral program “Rechtskulturen: Konfrontationen jenseits des Vergleichs” (“Legal cultures: Confrontations beyond Comparison”) under the aegis of the research network “Recht im Kontext” (“Law in Context”), located at the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien (“Forum Transregional Studies”). The fellows of this program work together in exploring “the foundations and contexts of law in a plural world where competing but also complementary co-existence of different legal and normative orders is part of social reality.”[4] Thus the imperative to understand law in its particular cultural context is identified as a primary effect of globalization, whose challenges for interdisciplinary and comparative legal scholarship are subject of the second joint research project, which is to be presented here. More specifically the mission of “Käte Hamburger Kolleg ‘Recht als Kultur’” (“Käte Hamburger Centre for Advanced Study ‘Law as Culture’”)[5], funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research and affiliated with Bonn University, is to bring law in its cultural meaning (Max Weber) to the centre of cultural research and ultimately to foster a “judicial turn” of the humanities as a whole.[6] Furthermore the Cluster of Excellence “Die Herausbildung normativer Ordnungen” (“The Formation of Normative Orders”) at Frankfurt University[7] analyzes the profound and rapid social changes under conditions of globalization as an impulse, whose dynamics and impact first become apparent in the normative dimension of constantly transforming transnational institutions. “Normative orders are understood in this context as historically grounded ‘orders of justification’ based upon ‘justification narratives’. They privilege certain legitimations, where norms and values of very different kinds (moral, legal, and religious to mention just a few) are interconnected or give rise to tensions. Such orders derive their legitimation from specific norms and themselves give rise to norms, though always in a dynamic sense.”[8] Consequently, the consolidation process of normative orders is characterized by an inherent tension, which only becomes visible from a multi-perspective view. This position sensitises for the historical and cultural contextuality of positive law and contributes to strengthening the disciplinary unit of legal scholarship – in accordance with the impetus of the mentioned recommendations of Germany’s Wissenschaftsrat.


Christian Mathieu

[2] Especially Thomas Duve: Internationalisierung und Transnationalisierung der Rechtswissenschaft – aus deutscher Perspektive (LOEWE Research Focus „Extrajudicial and Judicial Conflict Resolution“ – Working Paper 6/2013), Frankfurt a.M. 2013 <urn:nbn:de:hebis:30:3-277904>.

[3]Lawrence M. Friedman: Legal Culture and Social Development, in: Law and Society Review 29 (1969), S. 29-44.

[6] So Werner Gephart: Recht als Kultur. Für eine geisteswissenschaftliche Erforschung von Recht im Globalisierungsprozess, Frankfurt am Main 2010 und Daniel Siemens: Towards a New Cultural History of Law, in: InterDisciplines: Journal of History and Sociology 3 (2012), S. 18-45 <DOI: 10.2390/indi-v3-i2-64>.