Learning law differently: the importance of theory and methodology

Sokhi-Bulley, Bal (2016) Learning law differently: the importance of theory and methodology. In: de Vries, Ubald and van Klink, Bart (eds.) Academic learning in law: theoretical positions, teaching experiments and learning experiences. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 121-141. ISBN 9781784714888

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'I like the word [curiosity] ... . It evokes “care”; it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilised before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing; a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.' (M Foucault, 'The Masked Philosopher')

I recently gave a paper where, explaining that I was adopting a ‘Foucauldian perspective’, I mentioned rather flippantly that my methodology was ‘governmentality’. I took for granted that my audience would know what I meant – govern/mentality is,2 as it says in the word itself after all, a mentality of government and hence a way of thinking about the processes of governing. I have always understood this process of thinking as a methodology. However, I was challenged on this and pushed to explain my viewpoint. Surely governmentality is not a methodology but a ‘theory’? I do not agree but it made me think more deeply about what a methodology is, how if at all it differs from theory and also how – given I was in a room full of non-lawyers – it is relevant to the study of law.3 How can we teach our students to think, or learn, law differently – by making use of a variety of methodological perspectives that ‘throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way’?
I aim to tackle these questions in this chapter and begin with an attempt to differentiate ‘theory’ from ‘methodology’. I then go on to focus, in Part II, on what I call ‘alternative methodologies’, so-called because they take a break from the dominant and traditional approach of legal positivism. In Part III, I attempt to outline how we might adopt ways of learning/teaching law differently; I describe some exercises that promote the skills of interrogation (curiosity) and application (putting the curiosity into practice) that could form part of a wider pedagogical project to encourage students and researchers to be curious about the law; to look at it in a different way, to challenge its traditional hierarchies, all in a bid to be less governed (as students, teachers and researchers) by its supposed neutrality and apolitical character.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Law
Depositing User: Bal Sokhi-Bulley
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2017 10:08
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2017 10:08
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/66493
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