Lecture: Should it be “Constitutionalism in Context”?

Professor David S. Law, University of Virginia (USA)

Date: Monday, 10.10.2022, 18:00-19:30
Venue: Room 104, 1st Floor | Sigmund Freud University | Freudplatz 3, 1020 Vienna

Comment: Prof. Monika Polzin, WU Wien

Comparative constitutional law is a sprawling and thriving field, but it has its blind spots. Its traditional substantive focus has been the judicial protection of rights in liberal democracies, while its traditional geographical focus has been a handful of roughly a dozen liberal democracies in Western Europe and the common law world. This unofficial canon does not begin to capture the actual diversity of constitutional law and politics around the world. The resulting blind spots leave the field poorly positioned to address a number of pressing real-world concerns, such as democratic erosion and the spread of authoritarianism.

Remedying this state of affairs requires us to confront fundamental questions about the field itself: what should we be trying to study, and how we should study it? Critical reflection on existing practice suggests the existence of at least five competing approaches or models, each of which embodies a different conception of the field: these might be called instrumentalism, tourism, immersion, abstraction, and representation. Among these choices, there is no single correct answer: the diversity of the audience and the subject matter alike calls for pedagogical and methodological pluralism, meaning the practice of multiple complementary approaches to the study and teaching of comparative constitutional law and politics.

Instrumentalism aims to equip domestic lawyers with a comparative repertoire that can be brought to bear on domestic issues. Tourism revolves around the idea that certain materials are in some sense canonical and ought to be studied for that reason. Immersion and abstraction take opposite approaches to the tradeoff between depth and breadth of study. The goal of the immersion model is to see the world through the eyes of the other or least develop a rich understanding of context, which in methodological terms entails a deep dive into a very small number of topics or jurisdictions. The abstraction model, by contrast, aims to impart generic skills and knowledge that are broadly applicable. Generalization and categorization are the defining tools of this approach. The representation model is the least familiar, yet it is especially well suited to filling the blind spots in the existing literature. The goal of this model is to capture and convey the diversity of real-world constitutionalism. The recently published Constitutionalism in Context offers a concrete example of how this model might be implemented — namely, by targeting an unconventional yet broadly representative and genuinely global selection of topics and jurisdictions

Please register until 09.10.22: konrad.lachmayer@jus.sfu.ac.at


Before joining the Virginia faculty, Professor David S. Law held the Sir Y.K. Pao Chair in Public Law at the University of Hong Kong and served on the faculties of the University of California, Irvine and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was the Charles Nagel Chair of Constitutional Law and Political Science. He has also taught at the University of California, San Diego (in the political science department); the University of San Diego; Keio University (as a Hitachi Fellow); National Taiwan University (as a Fulbright Scholar); Seoul National University; Universidad Externado de Colombia; Georgetown University Law Center; and Princeton University (as the Martin and Kathleen Crane Fellow in Law and Public Affairs.

Law earned his B.A. in public policy and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and his B.C.L. in European and Comparative Law from the University of Oxford. He clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and practiced law at Munger Tolles and Olson in Los Angeles before entering academia.