Monday, 14 May 2012

Doing the research

It is always a strange sensation when you are required to research your material. Coming from a background in exact science, I expect research to entail the scientific process and to contain actual experiments. For law, however, most research comes from reading texts that others have written; either a lawmaker who makes the rules or a judge or professor who interprets them.

For my master thesis, I need to do three kinds of research. The first is research into literature and has to do with the principle of legality (focusing on lex certa). Since this is such a famous principle, I can easily find a lot about it from just the handbooks I have available to me already. The handbook by De Hullu, for instance, includes pages and pages of discussion on the principle. Other works are referenced and one needs to double check the logic used, but it still feels like a massive appeal to authority some of the time.

The second type of research is done regarding a new law. I need to get familiar with the new provisions, read the Memorandum of law to understand the intentions and finally read the written transcripts of the lawmaker’s discussions. This is hugely illuminating and I really feel like I am getting useful data about the material… sometimes. Other times I feel like I am just summarizing.

The final type of research is done by comparing specific provisions with other provisions. Since I am talking about a provision that summons a general responsibility for the well-being of animals, it becomes very useful to compare that with the provisions that summon a general responsibility for the well-being of the environment, or for the soil. I have never actually done this before, so I will be a little unclear about its details until I do it for my thesis.

There are other kinds of research, obviously, some even requiring the researcher to look up actual scientific work like Biology or Chemistry. I did this about twice in my four-year study, both times with far less rigor than I would expect to be needed, both times with far more praise than I had anticipated. There are also research methods where you analyse cultures from the past or compare with the provisions of other countries.

All these methods have in common that they are pretty far removed from fully objective research. This bothers me at times, except when I realise there really are not many alternatives when dealing with law. If I wanted an exact science, I should have studied Physics instead. Or Chemistry. Or Biology. Or… basically any other study that actually studies the world instead of an arbitrary system of human-made rules.

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