Berliner Seminar »Recht im Kontext« 2022/23


The idea of sustainability is more relevant today than ever before. The earth's natural resources impose limits on human activity. In particular, the capacity of the atmosphere and oceans as natural CO2 sinks is limited. Climate change triggered by overexploitation of these resources challenges humanity's carbon-based modus vivendi. Under international law, the Paris Agreement obliges states to reduce their CO2 emissions, the EU is pursuing the goal of a "Green Deal," and at the national level, climate change mitigation is a declared priority. Nevertheless, the international community has not yet succeeded in reducing CO2 emissions. The lack of a body that could set and enforce rules at the global level is making itself painfully felt. This situation raises the question of the remaining legal options for action. The focus is primarily on nation states, increasingly also on companies, and finally also on each individual. Who is obligated to act sustainably? How can the law contribute to enabling future generations to live a life worth living? And what instruments are available: private law regulations, the concept of a trusteeship for the earth, or public law requirements? The lectures of the Berlin seminar "Recht im Kontext" approach these questions from a multidisciplinary perspective and in international dialogue.

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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.

Recht im Kontext was evaluated in 2017 by an international committee. A summary of the evaluation report can be found here