We’re trying out something new at Duke next (2011-12) academic year that I wanted to float by Lounge readers. If any of you have tried something similar at your schools (or even if you haven’t), we’d like to get input from you on anything that worked or didn’t, that you wish you had done differently or better, methods that you might employ if you were to do something similar to this, etcetera.
The plan is to have a continuing academic dialogue at the law school that is broad enough to include large segments of the faculty (ideally, all of it) and, eventually, other folks on campus as well. I think that the goal is to encourage conversation, collaboration, and cross-pollination among as much of our immediate community as possible. In order to do that we need a topic that is relevant to many people’s scholarship across fields, obviously.
We’ve chosen the relationship between custom and law. Sometimes custom informs the law, sometimes it is antagonistic to law, and sometimes it actually is the law. The year-long dialogue will explore these differing relationships between custom and law.
This topic connects with a wide range of subject areas. For example: Tort law considers custom in the industry in determining the standard of care. Contract law fills in the gaps of commitments based on customary practices. Assessments of criminal fraud are often affected by industry practices. Custom has a potentially significant influence on what is considered “fair use” in intellectual property law. Constitutional law is informed by the customary operations of government. One of the two major forms of international law is customary rather than codified. And an understanding of the unwritten institutional customs of legal actors (such as courts and prosecutors’ offices) is often essential to an appreciation of how they operate. There are others, of course, and we welcome suggestions on other applications, as well as readings, either foundational or new, on which we might focus as a group at various points throughout the year.
The plan is to have a number of components to the project. First, there will be a series of lunches during which faculty members will discuss important published works relating to the topic. Second, there will be a number of workshops in which faculty members from other schools will come and present works in progress that concern the intersection of custom and law. Third, there will be an interdisciplinary conference at which faculty from law and other departments (such as Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, and Sociology) will present and discuss their own draft papers. It is expected that some of the papers will be published in a symposium issue of one of Duke's law journals.
The project is being organized by Professor Curtis Bradley and he welcomes your advice and input at firstname.lastname@example.org. But you should also feel free to leave comments, questions, and the like in the comments section here regarding any of the three components, readings for the “reading group” sessions, or whatever else you think of, in the event that other Loungers would find it helpful.
For example, is the selected topic sufficiently broad to engage lots of faculty? But not so broad that it fails to fulfill the goal of generating a single conversation? If not, how might it be practically narrowed as we progress through the year? Or is the best plan to just wait and see what themes arise organically from the conversations? What's the best way to make sure that people are informed, included, engaged? Is it possible to generate a year-long conversation of this nature that gets folks talking about common ground, even when we all have very different specific interests?
I know that we have many associate deans for research as readers (and also as bloggers) here -- if it was your school, how would you approach and implement an agenda designed to further a goal of such conversation, collaboration, and community-building that, as the plan for a published volume suggests, culminates with meaningful scholarship that fits into some (broadly defined) coherent theme? And because I know how you lot think . . . suggestions that involve the firing and replacing of large numbers of recalcitrant faculty, while appreciated, are not likely to be implemented in the near future.
Thanks in advance for the brainstorming session!