Law and Interdisciplinary Scholarship (or the advantages of being an intellectual weakling with a big budget)
Omar over at orgtheory.net has a facinating post on why interdisciplinary scholarship is a “permanently failing academic ‘social movement.’” (I would be curious to hear if Laura has any thoughts on the application of his ideas to her question about Law & Humanities.) He writes:
Interdisciplinarity seldom has highly legitimate and powerful constituents, instead relying on loose and shifting congeries of dominated and relatively powerless coalitions of knowledge producers. Because these people seldom have the ears of the people that control the purse-strings of academia, you tend to observe “loose-coupling” between rhetoric and everyday activities, with everybody (including administrators in an attempt to appease some of their most vociferous pro-inter-dis colleagues) toeing the politically correct line of “calling” for “further” (always deferred to sometime in the undefined immediate future) interdisciplinary work, while “making a living” (or handing the big jobs to people) producing strong disciplinary work.
Basically, he sees interdisciplinary work as facing two hurdles. First, the production of scholars and more importantly their placement occurs within an institutional framework that sharply channels scholars into disciplinary work. Second, intellectually self-confident disciplines (Omar gives the examples of economics and political science) see no real benefit from interdisciplinary work, which tends to be pushed by “weaker” less confident disciplines such as history or anthropology.
If Omar’s analysis is correct, it seems to me that law ought to be the happy hunting ground for interdisciplinary scholarship. First, the institutional structures that produce legal academics are extremely weak in comparison to other disciplines. There is nothing in law comparable to the socialization and specialization imposed on most scholars by graduate programs. Accordingly, doing interdisciplinary work in law has fewer costs because it involves a less clear cut deviation from established norms. Second, law is an intellectually weak discipline in the sense that legal scholars suffer from a permanent intellectual inferiority complex, in part as a result of their diffuse academic training and in part as a result of the post-realist loss of faith in the autonomy of the law. Accordingly, we’re more like the intellectually weak disciplines such as history than self-confident disciplines such as economics but with one important difference. Unlike history or anthropology, law is not an institutionally weak discipline. Thanks to ABA accreditation standards and the the (admittedly weak) competition between law schools and the profession for good legal minds, law schools tend to have excellent research resources and high salaries.
Yet another reason I am glad that I am a law prof…