Law and digital networks

In the academic year 2018-2019, the Recht im Kontext lecture series continues to look at the interplay of law and the digital transformation of society, focusing on the role of digital networks. How do legal rules affect the way “social”, governmental or economic platforms transform the relationship between the nodes of these networks (citizens, consumers, producers, administrators, security apparatuses, criminals)? And what is the impact on the very law that tries to regulate the networks, or at least keep up with their disruptive social, political and economic consequences? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in the lecture series from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

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(Re-)Contextualizing law(s)

Law is constantly growing more diverse, international and complex. Long ago, the coexistence and collaboration of rival yet complementary systems of law and normative orders established itself as a factual norm. Legal pluralism has become “an everyday matter of risk and opportunity”, writes David Kennedy, Professor of International Law at Harvard. That applies to people besides corporate lawyers, investment bankers and members of NGOs or armed forces seeking orientation in an increasingly disaggregated and fragmented global legal order. Wherever the law (re-)constructs social phenomena and, in turn, is influenced by them, we should recall the words of Australian legal scholar Fleur Johns, who wrote that “each time we produce law to match the world, we produce world to match the law, and vice versa.” The frontiers of law and its study evade definition along traditional patterns of order, and even intra-disciplinary differentiations such as the dichotomy between public and private law require critical reconsideration.

Seen from within the research and teaching of legal scholarship, inquiring into the innate sense of law within a pluralistic legal reality is one of the “future tasks of scholarship that can free itself only through contextualization and thereby reference its underlying disciplines” (Dieter Grimm). Besides placing greater emphasis on legal realities, doing so also requires a discourse with the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies.

Since 2010, the Research Network Recht im Kontext has worked to advance this process of “relocating” law and legal studies. It builds upon the work and expertise of a group of scholars sharing an interest in contextual and contextualized legal knowledge. Recht im Kontext opens discursive and academic space for new approaches to legal scholarship. These range from gender studies, comparative scholarship, legal history, law and literature and critical approaches to international law to the administrative sciences, transitional justice, development cooperation law and classical issues of legal philosophy. We assign central importance to the development of new discursive and research approaches.

As a vibrant infrastructure for cross-disciplinary legal research, Recht im Kontext also strives to provide impulses to the humanities and social sciences, which themselves imbue the training and practice of law over the intermediate term, thereby enriching law as a subject and discipline.