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Socio-legal studies and the humanities – law, interdisciplinarity and integrity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2009

Melanie L. Williams*
University of Exeter


This paper was delivered as a plenary lecture, designed to respond to the one-day special conference focus upon links between socio-legal studies and the humanities.1 The paper focuses in particular upon the relationship between law and the humanities. It may be argued that the role of empirically sourced socio-legal research is well accepted, given its tangible utility in terms of producing hard data which can inform and transform policy perspectives. However, scholarly speculation about the relationship between law and the humanities ranges from the indulgent to the hostile. In particular, legal scholars aligning themselves as ‘black letter’ commentators express strong opinions about such links, suggesting that scholarship purporting to establish links between the two fields is essentially spurious, bearing in mind the purposive role of law as a problem-solving mechanism. The paper sets out to challenge such assertions, indicating the natural connections between the two fields and the philosophical necessity of continued interaction, given the fact that certain aspects of human experience and nature cannot be plumbed by doctrine or empiricism or even by combinations of the two. Law must be understood to stand at the nexus of human experience, in a relationship of integrity, where the word is understood to mean both morally principled and culturally integrated. In particular, the development of human qualities, of character and moral sensibility informing normative values – and, ultimately, engagement with the world of law – is a process of subtle cultural as well as psychological significance, and may benefit from interrogation deriving from the wider fields of human discourse.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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