Law and Uncertainty
Call for Papers VSR annual conference
January 16-17, 2020
One of the most important functions of law is to achieve certainty in social life. However, when its meaning is unclear, law can also lead to uncertainty (legal uncertainty). While legal norms are agreed upon beforehand, social norms are constantly shifting. How is law mobilized in dealing with such uncertainties? One of law’s aspirations is to offer protection to weaker members of society, such as people in uncertain circumstances. To what extent does law live up to this aspiration?
Law and Uncertainty will be the theme of the VSR annual conference, January 16/17 2020 in Nijmegen. We identified three subthemes:
1. How does law lead to uncertainty and how do legal and other actors deal with such uncertainties?
2. How is law used to diminish uncertainties in society?
3. Do people in uncertain situations call upon law, and if so, how and when?
Every legal system has uncertainties, due to vague or unclear concepts, potential for conflicting interpretations, inconsistent or contradictory rules or because the consequences of non-compliance are unclear. Uncertainty can also arise when the interpretation and application of law is delegated or when those applying the law have policy choices, autonomy or discretionary powers. What do these uncertainties mean for officials, judges, businesses, and citizens?
How do policymakers, judges, and implementation and enforcement officers deal with social and technological uncertainties? There are different ways to enhance law’s flexibility, including the precautionary principle, experimentalist governance (Sabel & Zeitlin), principle based rules, and enforced self-regulation. These “solutions” have in common that they consciously refrain from developing a system of detailed rules and regulations. However, this approach can also increase uncertainty and even lead to legal inequality. This enduring tension between legal certainty and legislative development means, on the one hand, that law is often a step behind because it is unclear what tomorrow’s problems will be. Law can be inflexible, rigid, or hamper change. On the other hand, law as a living instrument, constantly in progress with rapidly changing rules, regulations, and jurisprudence can also lead to uncertainty.
People in uncertain situations can call upon law. In times of social change, judges or lawmakers can be called upon to provide clarity in new social relations and conditions. Changes in personal circumstances such as migration, job loss, or divorce can also be accompanied by uncertainty. How does uncertainty about their particular situation, about access to justice, or about their legal position influence how people mobilize legal institutions?
In short, at the VSR conference we aim to examine the question how law is used to deal with social uncertainties and what this means for the legitimacy, effectiveness, and social meaning of law. Uncertainties within law will also be discussed, for example the question what such uncertainties mean for citizens, businesses, and the legitimacy, effectiveness, and social meaning of law. Proposals for panels or papers concerning the conference theme are very welcome. We also invite proposals for panels or papers about other themes in socio-legal studies.
We explicitly aim to make the conference open to non-Dutch-speaking sociologists of law, legal anthropologists, and others interested in law and society. Therefore, we welcome panels or papers in English. Other suggestions are also welcome.
The conference will take place on January 16-17 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Panel/paper proposals and other suggestions can be submitted to Tetty Havinga via firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline: September 15, 2019.