Investigação • 23 jul 2018
Sociology of Law. From Portugal to the world
Pierre Guibentif

The recently created section of sociology of law and justice, of the Portuguese Association of Sociology (APS), begins to take great steps in its scientific assertion. Created at the end of 2014, this year it is organizing the III meeting of the section integrated in the world congress of sociology of law ‘Law and Citizenship beyond the States’, to be held in September at ISCTE-IUL. We interviewed Pierre Guibentif, researcher at DINÂMIA'CET-IUL who is a member of this section’s coordination team.

The call for abstracts has exceeded all expectations and a broad discussion meeting is expected between experts, researchers and professionals in the field in Portugal.


Apart from the work done for many years in this area of ​​study, why did the thematic section of sociology of law and justice arise? Was the formal framework necessary?

Pierre Guibentif | There are three main focuses of development of this specialty in Portugal. In Coimbra, we have Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who is specialized in Sociology of Law in the U.S., having conducted his first fieldwork in Brazil. Since founding the CES (Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra) in 1978, he has promoted research on justice, which led in 1996 to the creation of the Permanent Observatory of Portuguese Justice. In Braga, Manuela Ivone Cunha has carried out pioneering work on prisons and formed a very dynamic group of specialized researchers in this field. This contributed to the remarkable development of social sciences at the University of Minho.

Here at ISCTE-IUL, sociology of law was introduced as early as in 1984 and has always been linked to the activities I have performed in international networks of this specialty: the Research Committee on Sociology of Law, French-speaking and German-speaking networks, as well as the International Institute of Sociology Law School of Oñati (Spain), which I directed from 1998 to 2000. This area of education mainly developed from the 2000s onwards, with a master's degree in New Frontiers of Law created by initiative of Maria Eduarda Gonçalves, and later in liaison with the Dinâmia'CET Group of Governance, Economy and Citizenship.

It made perfect sense to intensify the links between these three work dynamics and encourage the identification of other initiatives. The Direction of the Portuguese Association of Sociology played an important role here. It took the initiative to create a Thematic Area of ​​Sociology of Law to foster the participation of researchers specialized in this field in APS congresses. So, in the 2008 APS Congress in Lisbon, we got to know each other better; at the 2012 Congress in Porto, we were able to prepare a call together, taking advantage of the general theme, "Society, Crisis and Reconfigurations". It is well known that in Portugal and in other countries the crisis had a considerable impact on the law, the legal system and individual rights.

We had a good number of papers (43), which was repeated at the next Congress in Évora in 2014 (38 papers). It was in that year, in light of these two successes, that we decided to create a thematic section of its own, which finally came to institutionalize a network of collegial contacts which actually already had a long history. This institutionalization was very beneficial: we managed to hold Section meetings with strong participation in 2016 (in Coimbra) and 2017 (Braga), and these two meetings gave rise to publications: a volume edited by CES Coimbra: Direitos, Justiça, Cidadania: O Direito na Constituição da Política and two thematic issues of the magazine Configurações: Justiça, Direito(s) e Instituições e Justiça, Instituições, Interlocuções.

This dynamic encouraged us, at the end of 2016, to respond to the call of the Research Committee on Sociology of Law (RCSL) for the hosting and organization of its 2018 Congress. The Section’s meeting was already planned to be held in Lisbon, where we knew that we could rely on support particularly from Dinâmia'CET, although Section members belonging to other centres unconditionally supported and actively participated in the preparation of this Congress.


In your perception, is there an effective growth of experts in the field and, hence, this high number of abstracts for participation in the 2018 meeting, or is this a gradual gain due to the work that has progressively been done by the team that you are coordinating?

P.G. | We have indeed achieved a large number of papers (precisely 374), higher than that at RCSL meetings in recent years. It is important to recognize that the appeal of the city of Lisbon certainly been important in this success.

But there is also a growing research community in this area of ​​law and justice. One factor is the development, in many countries of the world, of mechanisms for assessing the impact of legislation. These assessments should be based on research to be carried out by professionals with appropriate training and conditions. Another more recent factor are the developments in various parts of the world that challenge individual rights and even the validity of laws or constitutions. Movements arise that try to react to these evolutions, and these movements need a better knowledge of the current state of our institutions and the laws that structure them.

The difficulty is that specialists in this field belong to a wide variety of disciplines and professions (researchers, legal practitioners, lawyers, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, etc.) and are involved in numerous more specific thematic networks which require a great deal of effort (better regulation, social policies, youth protection policies, multiple observatories, citizen movements, etc.). The challenge is to bring these specialists together, offering them better conditions to discuss matters of interest to them all: the legal norms and rights they establish, as an instrument of collective action with great potential but also with important limitations. Potentials and limitations that vary in time, across space and the domains of activity in question, and therefore require considerable effort on the part of researchers, who really need to be able to work in a comparative way, crossing several sub-specialties. Apparently, that's what they thought they could find here in September. We were very pleased with this response.


Regarding the meeting itself, will the fact of it being held at ISCTE-IUL bring a high projection of the Institute and its position in this area?

P.G. | I have no doubt that this congress will reinforce the international image of ISCTE-IUL, and more specifically the image of a new institution, open to interdisciplinarity, which has developed with great attention to current issues. The work in Sociology of Law and Justice will benefit from the strengthening of relations with many colleagues from other countries. From this event, these colleagues will be able to better appreciate the support we receive from our institution, which can only strengthen the position of ISCTE-IUL researchers in the networks that they are currently developing. We will also be better placed to take international initiatives in which ISCTE-IUL can take the lead, particularly around the theme of the Congress. I can say this because, during the preparation of this Congress, I found, on the part of our Institution, the Rectory, the central services, the School of Sociology and Public Policy, the research units in the social sciences, and of course, Dinâmia'CET, an interest, a willingness and a responsiveness that were a huge stimulus to me as well as to the other members of the organizing committee.

International and national specialists will be at ISCTE-IUL, in Lisbon, between 10 and 13 September 2018. The program is available on the Congress website.

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