Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Travails of Combining Public Law and Political Theory

I am a political theorist who is interested in law a site of political and democratic dialogue. This is a very natural connection for me -- the whole reason I got interested in law in the first place was that it felt like the space where the rubber hit the road with regard to our public discussions regarding matters of equality, rights, freedom, etc.. But for whatever reason, pretty much everyone who does public law in political science departments is an empiricist. They study things like judicial behavior using data and models.

One upshot of this is that I'm rather isolated from the political science public law community, but that's not a huge problem since I'm still perfectly tied into the public law scholars at law schools. The bigger issue comes when I try to bring law-centered approach to political theory. Then this happens:
Me: Hello! I am hereby submitting a proposal to present at your political theory conference! My topic is on the role of judges in protecting marginalized groups; specifically, the deliberative advantages of the judiciary being "force to listen" to claims that other political actors can dismiss out of hand.
Conference organizer #1: I don't know. That sounds like a pretty niche area. I mean, does anybody really pay much attention to the intersection of minority rights and the law? I think we need something with a wider base of appeal.
Conference organizer #2: I agree. How about a paper presenting an esoteric reading of five pages of a 19th century German philosopher known to approximately two dozen people outside of this room instead?
Conference organizer #1: That sounds great! But is our conference unbalanced what with eight "history of political thought" papers scheduled and just one contemporary piece?
[Everybody laughs uproariously, and scene]
Learning a new discipline is weird.


EW said...

As a kid, academia seemed so cool. So did politics. As a grown-up, not so much.

Speaking of being a grown-up, any thoughts about what you want to be? (No, your mom didn't put me up to this.) I'd imagine having a combined JD/poli sci PhD might open all kinds of doors. Joining a law faculty would be the obvious one -- but that industry seems to be contracting at the moment....

David Schraub said...

The goal is to become a professor. Beyond that, in these academic-economic position, my line is that "my dream school is the one that hires me." That's my story and I'm sticking to it.