Interdisciplinary Approach to Legal Scholarship: A Blend from the Qualitative Paradigm

Date01 January 2016
Published date01 January 2016
DOI10.1177/2322005815607135
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Interdisciplinary Approach to Legal
Scholarship: A Blend from the
Qualitative Paradigm
Lydia A. Nkansah1
Victor Chimbwanda2
Abstract
Interdisciplinary legal studies requires that the researcher generates knowledge from the social world.
The problem, however, is that where law students and academicians are usually prepared to undertake
legal research and analysis, they normally lack the methodological skills to undertake interdisciplinary
legal studies. As a result, such studies are often not anchored in any scientific research methodo-
logical paradigm. As a matter of fact, a major criticism against interdisciplinary legal studies is that legal
researchers who dabble in it lack the methodological skills to effectively undertake research of that
nature. This article seeks to address how this problem may be approached. It will show how legal meth-
ods could be infused with one of the social science research methods—the qualitative paradigm—to
augment legal scholarship.
Introduction
Interdisciplinary legal studies has emerged as a response to the known traditional approach of studying
the law until the 1960s.3 The conventional approach, commonly referred to as ‘black letter law’, was
based on the firm belief that law was an autonomous discipline which should be studied as an end in
itself.4 That approach did not highlight issues pertaining to the characteristics of law, its origins or impli-
cations for society.5 Law academics are now inclined towards interdisciplinary scholarship—‘law ands’.
1 Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana.
2 Lecturer in Law, KNUST, PhD Candidate (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London), Attorney (Botswana), Solicitor
(England & Wales).
3
Simon Halliday
,
Judicial Review and compliance witH adminiStRative law
(2004).
4 Richard A. Posner, The Decline of Law as an Autonomous Discipline: 1962–1987, 100
HaRv. l. Rev
. 761, 762 (1986–87).
5 Roger Cotterrell, Subverting Orthodoxy, Making Law Central: A View of Sociolegal Studies, 29
JouRnal of law and Society
(Issue 4) 632, 633 (2002).
Asian Journal of Legal Education
3(1) 55–71
© 2016 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/2322005815607135
http://ale.sagepub.com
Corresponding author:
Lydia A. Nkansah, Faculty of Law, KNUST, University Post Off‌ice, Kumasi, Ghana.
E-mail: ntowhaponk@yahoo.com.
Acknowledgement: The part on the qualitative frame appearing on Part III is based on the rst author’s PhD
thesis submitted to Walden University in 2008.
56 Asian Journal of Legal Education 3(1)
Such studies may focus on how legal institutions function, the way the law works, social implications of
law and issues pertaining to law reform.
As a result, interdisciplinary scholarship is becoming popular with academics. In a survey by
Cownie6 on legal academics in the United Kingdom (UK), half of those surveyed reported to have
adopted a socio-legal approach in their work, whereas the other half who preferred the ‘black letter’
approach also acknowledged the importance of bringing contextual issues to the study of law.7 As part
of developing lawyering skills, law students are often made to engage in research work at varying stages
in their studies, through long essay, thesis and dissertation writings which form part of the curriculum of
law universities. Some students choose to engage in interdisciplinary legal studies aimed at addressing
the relationship between legal systems and their social systems.8 This results in a blend of law, social
sciences and humanities focusing on law as a social phenomenon.
Interdisciplinary legal studies requires that the researcher generates knowledge from the social world.
Such studies should be anchored in mixed research methods. The problem, however, is that where law
students and academics are usually prepared to undertake legal research and analysis, they normally lack
the methodological skills to undertake interdisciplinary legal studies, whether socio-legal and/or empiri-
cal. As a result, such studies are often not anchored in any scientific research methodological paradigm.
As a matter of fact, a major criticism against interdisciplinary legal studies is that legal researchers who
dabble in it lack the methodological skills to effectively undertake research of that nature.9 This may be
due to the fact that courses in legal research methods differ from social science research methods—
the theoretical and philosophical framework as well as the procedures and processes that ground social
science research.10
Several studies have been carried out on various aspects of interdisciplinary legal studies.11 However,
not much attention has been given to the methodological approach to such studies, although some law
schools which focus on law in society programmes have sought to fill this gap by requiring their students
to undertake courses in social science research methods from other faculties or schools. This article seeks
to demonstrate how social science research methods could be applied to enhance interdisciplinary legal
research to validate such studies.
The article will provide an account of the theoretical paradigms for social science research within
the qualitative framework and demonstrate how it can contribute to the thesis writing and the thesis
process of law students engaged in interdisciplinary legal studies. To this end, the article addresses the
philosophical underpinnings that ground a qualitative study, as well as the research process involved.
These steps are critical to the credibility of knowledge generation in the social world. Anchoring these
processes in the scientific methodology will enhance the credibility of the outcome.
The article will assist law students and academicians to understand qualitative research in terms of
when and how to use it to augment legal research. Before turning to consider the scientific generation
6
fiona cownie, legal academicS: cultuReS and identitieS
(2004).
7 Id.
8 A survey of Research Project Work of the LLB Candidates of the Faculty of Law, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and
Technology (KNUST), between 2011 and 2015, confirms this as theses were mostly interdisciplinary legal studies.
9 See Douglas W. Vick, Interdisciplinarity and the Discipline of Law, 31
JouRnal of law and Society
(Issue 2) 163, 164 (2004).
10
JoHn w. cReSwell, Qualitative inQuiRy and ReSeaRcH deSign: cHooSing among five tRaditionS
(1998).
11 See Jack M. Balkin & Sanford Levinson, Law and the Humanities: An Uneasy Relationship, 18
yale JouRnal of law & tHe
HumanitieS
155 (2006); Cotterrell, supra note 5, at 632; Posner, supra note 4, at 761; Vick, supra note 9, at 163; Paul Chynoweth,
Legal Research, in
advanced ReSeaRcH metHodS in tHe Built enviRonment
28 (Andrew Knight & Les Ruddock eds, 2008);
Mathias M. Siems & Daithí Síthigh, Mapping Legal Research, 71
tHe camBRidge law JouRnal
(Issue 3) 651 (2012).

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