How does the School of Law define interdisciplinary study?
Key words: contextual approach, law in context, wide choice, optional courses
The School of Law has an interesting definition of interdisciplinary study applied to Law. Although a law degree is naturally required to be quite heavily focused on learning skills and knowledge necessary to enter law as a profession, the School of law still aims to include at the very least perspectives from other disciplines through looking at the wider context of law. In this way it claims to involve analysing economic, cultural and political change, which would involve knowledge of economics, sociology and politics respectively.
There is also a claim of interdisciplinarity through modules relating to the humanities disciplines, designed together with the CAPITAL centre.
- "The contextual approach has been developed at Warwick for over twenty-five years. Our aim is to avoid treating law as if it can be separated from other aspects of society."
- "The contextual approach has been developed at Warwick for over twenty-five years. Our aim is to avoid treating law as if it can be separated from other aspects of society. So as well as studying legal judgments and statutes, students also examine the impact of economic, cultural and political change on law and consider how law affects life beyond the court-room and the lawyer's office."
- "This is what we mean when we say that we are concerned with “law in context”. We are also concerned with cultural and historical contexts and with the relationship of law to the humanities disciplines; our modules in those fields have been designed in consultation with the CAPITAL centre (a partnership between Warwick University and the Royal Shakespeare Company)."
Aside from this general claim relating specifically to the study of law, there is a varying degree of optional modules available for students and there are two joint degrees which combine the study of law with sociology or with business. The availability and potential for optional modules varies considerably depending on each course.
There is a clear conflict between diverse optional modules and the desire for professional exemptions and a "qualifying degree," which is more pronounced on the three year courses and the joint degree courses due to their "packed" nature. It is suggested that most students pursue the latter of the two options.
- "The majority of our students choose modules which qualify them to proceed immediately to training as a barrister or solicitor, but legal studies at Warwick develops intellectual and practical skills applicable to a vast range of future professions."
The School makes the slightly perplexing claim of not being modularised, even though it uses the term "module" to describe the components of its courses throughout the website. In context, it seems that by this claim it means to draw a line between it and the other departments, in that law students are expected to only select modules available from within the School. This could be seen as a potential barrier to interdisciplinarity, but does not apply to the joint courses and would not seem to interfere with the School of Law's general definition of interdisciplinarity applied to law through context.
- "...although not modularised, the School aims to give students a wide choice of courses so they can create a combination that best suits their interests. While there are some core courses in the first two years, and most students decide to fulfil the professional requirements for exemptions, there is still room to select from a large number of optional courses."
In what way do the courses offered by the School of Law claim to be interdisciplinary?
The department of law offers six different types of undergraduate courses. Four of these are single honours LLB degrees, the other two are joint honours BA degrees.
Single honours degrees
This degree is a standard three year law degree. Its claim for interdisciplinarity stems mainly from the modules on offer for study. However as it is only a three year course, in order to make it a qualifying degree most students will not be able to take many, if any, optional modules.
As noted above, "most students decide to fulfil the professional requirements for exemptions," which suggests that the uptake on some of the more diverse modules is perhaps not very high due to the more alluring possibility of earning exemptions for professional exams and the intensive nature of the three year course.
The degree with a year's study abroad in English is the same as the three year LLB degree, but with a year's study abroad. I would argue that it does not further enhance interdisciplinarity in comparison to the standard three year course, as students do not even learn a new language.
The four year degree is similar to the three year degree, but students have an extra year of study in which to diversify their interests.
- "Many students find the three-year course too short and welcome the chance to explore more subjects or different subjects than the three-year law course allows: for them the four-year degree scheme is the answer. Within a very flexible framework, students can build a coherent individualised degree course, being able to take more modules from the wide choice within the Law School and up to four related modules from outside Law."
- "In the Second, Third and Fourth Years a total of up to four non-law subjects may be taken (one at most in the Second Year and up to two in each of the Third and Fourth Years)."
Key words: flexible, individualised, wide choice
This degree is longer and therefore less pressured than the similar three year course. Students can fulfill the requirements for a qualifying degree and professional exemptions while still having some room for more interdisciplinary modules. The module choice restrictions are also more lenient, allowing greater option for interdisciplinarity.
- EUROPEAN LAW LLB DEGREE (UCAS code M125)(with study abroad in France and/or Germany)
This degree combines study of French or German (or both) with a year abroad in a University in France or Germany (or both). Students are required to take specialised language modules in French/German legal language. This is a simple but valid example of interdisciplinary study, combining modern languages with law.
Students are quite heavily restricted in their module choices, so that they have the relevant skills for understanding national and European law by the end of their third year. Otherwise the degree is the same as the three year course, but with the extra year inbetween the second and final year.
Joint honours degrees
The joint degree in Law and Sociology is clearly intended to be interdisciplinary, and goes as far as actually using the term "interdisciplinary" explicitly.
- "This four-year joint degree aims to develop the study of legal institutions, ideas and processes as part of social reality. It is interdisciplinary and enables lawyers to understand law in a broad sociological context, and helps sociologists to understand the techniques of law."
- "A key feature of the degree is the jointly-taught module run in the Second Year."
Key words: interdisciplinary, broad context, jointly-taught
This four year degree seems to be quite ambitious in its pursuit of interdisciplinary study, clearly crossing the gap from multidisciplinarity to interdisciplinarity in the inclusion of a joint taught module bridging the two disciplines.
Students are also, similarly to the four year LLB, given a large degree of choice in the options allowed. Of course it must be noted again that if students wish to gain professional exemptions from legal exams they will not have as much choice.
There are some important differences between the Law and Business joint BA degree and its Law and Sociology counterpart. Firstly the term "interdisciplinary" is not used to describe it. Secondly, it is available as both a three year and a four year degree.
Some indication of the intensive nature of the course can be found in that it is impossible to obtain a qualifying law degree on the three year version. Once again, although the word "interdisciplinary" is not used, there is a considerable degree of interdisciplinarity claimed.
- "Particular emphasis will be laid upon the many areas of overlapping interest between the two disciplines, for example, the structure of companies and other forms of business organisation, competition law and regulation of markets, consumer law, finance and financial markets, taxation, and international perspectives on law and business. The degree will involve some modules taught jointly by staff from the Business and Law Schools. A Fourth Year enables students to take a wider variety of options, including a foreign language."
Key words: overlapping interests, taught jointly, variety of options
As with the other joint degree, the presence of joint-taught modules is a good indication of interdisciplinarity. Especially with the four year course, the wide range of options available seems a very promising claim for interdisciplinarity above the existing interdisciplinary nature of the course.
The phrase "overlapping interests," also suggests interdisciplinarity above just multidisciplinarity, which would be expected in any joint degree course.
There are only four approved modules from outside the school, each seems to offer interdisciplinary perspectives to a law student:
This module is co-taught by a lecturer from the School of Law and a professor from the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies (and director of the CAPITAL centre). The module claims to be "interested equally in early modern legal history and theatrical performance," which would suggest not only the obvious crossover of the disciplines of Law and English Literature, but the further involvement of perspectives from a Historical and a Theatrical point of view.
This module is taught by a member of the French department and teaches French History and French language skills. This is considered an approved external option, hence it does not require any special permission and is presumably especially relevant for students taking the European Law degree. It is one of very few approved options outside the law department.
These modules (the first is a prerequisite for the second) allow law students to develop their understanding of Industrial Relations, which presumably informs them better with regards to the context of commerical law.
There are examples of modules within the school, which explore law in what might be termed an interdisciplinary fashion, using the main theme of context. For example:
This module claims that it "adopts various perspectives including, critical social and rights-based analyses, and draws upon social, psychological, and legal research." Hence it claims to use knowledge from the disciplines of Sociology and Psychology.
This module is clearly interdisciplinary in its approach and its practice, being jointly-taught. It is a key component of the Sociology and Law joint degree but is also available as an optional module for other law students.
This module is another interdisciplinary co-taught module, this time between the Business School and the School of Law. It is a core module for Law and Business students, however it is stated to be not normally open as an option to other law students.
This module applies the kind of analysis one would associate with an ancient historian or classicist in a legal context, relating specifically to the historical development of English law. "A primary aim is to analyse the effect of classical philosophy, ancient mythology, Judaeo-Christianity and indigenous culture on the evolution of the English constitution." It is another good example of the School of Law applying its own definition of interdisciplinary study.
A number of stated areas of study, including "The relationship between law and medical ethics," combine the study of medicine with law.
Gender and Law seems to borrow heavily from what would normally be considered Sociology, exploring notions of gender, sexuality and "legal feminism".
The School of Law seems to do well in not merely being content with providing students with vocational training for entering the profession of law. It claims a wide range of options and a context based approach to interdisciplinary study. Furthermore it has joint degrees with Business or Sociology which seem to be genuinely interdisciplinary as opposed to multidisciplinary.
The range of optional modules are mainly contained within the school, but nevertheless claim to cover a wide range of disciplines through the context of law. However, the uptake of optional modules may be quite limited, as the impression is given that students prefer modules which grant professional exemptions and there are not many options available unless students are on one of the four year courses that does not include a year abroad.