About the Contextual Research in law (CORE)

The research group CORE (COntextual REsearch in law) groups together several disciplines of legal studies (legal history, legal theory, comparative law, sociology of law, jurisprudence, philosophy of law) within the Department of Interdisciplinary Legal Studies (DILS) of the Faculty of Law and Criminology of VUB.

The research group hosts courses and research about the mentioned subjects. Its research agenda is directed towards the exploration of the notion of law, of legal terminology, concepts and ideas, from different and combined intra-disciplinary angles (historical, comparative, theoretical, …).

This approach is for a large part a back-to-basics one. Even though nowadays the mentioned disciplines have distinct terminology, theories and a specialist audience, they share the same roots. Comparative law has its origins in eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century studies of institutions and of their variations in relation to contextual factors (Montesquieu, Tocqueville). Legal history grew out of this same broad ‘societal science’. In the early nineteenth century Friedrich Carl von Savigny (ob. 1861), who is generally deemed to be the founding father of legal history, heralded a historical approach towards legal doctrine, which he thought to be the best reflection of a Volksgeist, as a method of establishing apt legal solutions for his own day. Max Weber (ob. 1920), who had been trained as a legal historian, endeavoured to clarify how law and institutions develop in reciprocal interaction with society, thus establishing the foundations of sociology of law.

Over the years the communal origins of the mentioned disciplines have for a large part been forgotten. Legal historians, comparatists and legal theorists have established different views of their own, as to what law is, as to how it changes, and as to how it stands in relation to societal developments. However, their intertwined history remains relevant today, in their focus on the same fundamental characteristics of law, which is its nature, its coming into being, and its development. Intra-disciplinary research in which findings and methods of the mentioned disciplines are brought together will yield conclusions that will ultimately strengthen or nuance views persistent in one discipline, and it will expand the scope of researchers of specific fields of study to broader academic discussions.

The esprit of the research group relates to bottom-up and detailed analysis, with a view on context and operational aspects of law. Many problems in present-day legal studies are directly attributable to a dogmatic and deductive method, which goes back to natural law theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which was brought to its extreme in the Pandectist and exegetical schools of the nineteenth century. Such a method is based on assumptions that law and rules are apriorisms, that they are ‘out there’ and that they can be read and applied as such. In such an approach the fact is neglected that the concepts and rules that were applied by lawyers of previous generations are ‘relics’ of legal procedures of past times. This method denies much of the creativity and flexibility that is needed when formulating normative views, which must be ‘woven’ into the fabric of existing law but which nonetheless necessarily respond to specific and often new problems. Acknowledging specificity in the formation of norms invites for a detailed study and appraisal of contextual factors, such as those relating to the institutions producing norms, to ideas and actions of the actors involved in this process of production, and to the facts and interests presented in and/or underlying lawsuits, petitions and claims that trigger the formulation of normative solutions. The overall goal is not to establish new models, but instead to acknowledge and (re)value the diverse potentials of law.

Created with © by Alexander Riegler