Dissecting a legal source into seven pieces

by: in Law

Monographs and law review articles are legal sources that can be better studied and understood by dissecting (Lat. dissecare) or “cutting” them into seven pieces. Looking carefully at those pieces–as when dissecting organisms in biological sciences–can help researchers to work with sources. Monographs and law review articles can be building blocks for research projects.

These legal sources help researchers to erect argumentative lines, being foundations on which ideas can be contrasted and explored. They can assist in the construction of the premises of an argument, while they can help assess the validity and soundness of a claim. A dissection into the following seven pieces can assist researchers when engaging with a source: provenance, topic, state of the art, research question, methodology, results and analysis, and areas of further research.

Provenance. A source has a provenance, an origin that helps contextualize its content. Who is the author of the source? Is the author writing today, was she writing 300 years ago? Is he writing from within a totalitarian regime? Is she writing from prison, from exile, immediately after a seminal event, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall? Is the forum aiming to a local or global readership? Is the author a jurist? Is she an academic or a practitioner? Reflecting on the provenance of a source helps better contextualize and understand its value for a project.

Topic. A source deals with a main topic, with a legal phenomenon that merits exploration. Researchers must determine the suitability of a source for their projects. Circumscribing the topic of a source can be advantageous in that regard. Does the topic alert about a change that occurred or of the need for change? Does the topic invite researchers to revisit prior understandings? Some understandings are not uncontested dogmas, and researchers must be open to explore change. Understanding a topic helps determine scope and extent.

State of the Art. A source informs about the state of the art of the topic it explores. The impact and value of a source can be grasped when authors inform on the state of the art, of the existing literature. A look into the state of the art enables researchers to know what was there before and what may result from reading a source. The state of the art can help understand the place of a source within a narrative, while pointing to competing positions in the existing literature. It ultimately helps to identify gaps and develop legal science.

Research Question. A source addresses a main research question, while it can also invite to explore sub-questions. Awareness on the research questions that are raised in a monograph or law review article helps understand the problem that the source addresses and helps to set expectations about results and the analysis. What legal phenomenon is studied by the author? What is the research question that could lead the author’s work? Research questions determine the expectations and deliverables. They inform on the scope and limitations of a source. Further, research questions invite to explore ways to attain change.

Methodology. A source uses a methodology to answer the research question. The presence of a method in a source helps undertake the same path of the author. It helps researchers reproduce the DNA of a source. As chemists in the lab, jurists need to know what steps or methods to follow, if they want to test and assess the results of an author. Replicability is a requirement of the scientific method. Authors may break ground with their methods and researchers should allow themselves to replicate those steps. Further, the application of methods produces results. In addition, the method has a pedagogical component, pointing to assumptions, challenges, and limitations.

Results and Analysis. A source presents results and the corresponding analysis. Legal science can be impacted by the results that are presented in a source. Results and analysis invite researchers to look at the topic with fresh eyes, with new questions, and looking for additional answers. Results can offer novel perspectives and alert of limitations. They can present a new board-game, and invite researchers to play within that scenario. Researchers may disagree with the analysis, and would then be invited to explore a different reasoning, to seek alternatives and different approximations to a problem.

Areas of Further Research. A source invites to explore beyond its boundaries. Legal science has to be dynamic. If static, legal science stops reflecting society, since society is always on the move. Readers tend to think of further research as soon as they encounter a thought-provoking source. What would be the results in another jurisdiction or time period? How could the results be applied to similar problems? Areas of further research invite to develop autonomous and innovative narratives. An inspiring source can motivate researchers to develop legal science and to revisit prior understandings.

Monographs and law review articles are scholarly entities that invite for academic dialogue. These seven pieces can be instrumental in attaining a dialogue between sources, authors, and researchers. They can ultimately help assess the place of a source within the project of a researcher.

  • A. Parise

    Agustín Parise (Buenos Aires, Argentina) is Associate Professor of Law and Chair of the Faculty Council at the Faculty of Law of Maastricht University. He received his degrees of LL.B. (abogado) and LL.D. (doctor en derecho) at Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he was Lecturer in Legal History during 2001-2005. He received his degree of LL.M.

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