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Research program: Law in Contexts

Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence

Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence (PSC) is the meta-juridical research institute in the Amsterdam Law School. We are the pivotal centre for the legal-theoretical, i.e. empirical, historic and normative study of the law.


Research program: Law in Contexts 

The field of legal studies has established itself as an academic discipline, partly by employing rather strict legal distinctions and categories: private vs. public law, domestic vs. international law, legal vs. social norms, and law vs. politics. At the same time, it has been acknowledged that law becomes meaningful and effective only in particular societal contexts. Contemporary positive law is the product of a long history of law in the making, dating back even to Roman times. Moreover, law expresses social norms and actively shapes behavior in society, government and the marketplace. Finally, positive law is not merely a set of legal rules but also has (both explicit and implicit) normative content. Legal prescriptions and legal categories are inherently intertwined with normative ideals, including human rights and the rule of law, that are partly incorporated in law, and partly function as critical yardsticks to assess positive law.

Research at the Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence, therefore, aims to achieve a critical understanding of law in varied contexts. Our research revolves around the themes as formulated in our program entitled Law in Contexts. We study law from a multidisciplinary and (methodologically) pluralistic approach, combining insights of various legal-theoretical disciplines, including legal history, law & society, and legal and political philosophy.

Our program advances from the proposition that a proper understanding of positive law presupposes a solid understanding of the contexts in which law functions: the contingent historical tradition from which our current legal system has emerged; how positive law is embedded in broader normative-philosophical debates on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; and the ways in which the law in the books transforms into law in action and shapes behavior in society, government and organizations.

Research in PSC is organized around three sub-themes:

  1. The empirical and normative study of the legal professions;
  2. The strained interrelations between democracy, the rule of law,
    fundamental rights, and instrumentalism;
  3. Ethics, integrity and compliance: the ex-ante function of law.

Recent key publications:


Program director: