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Leverhulme Trust backs new Warwick Law research project

Gary Watt in OStiaAn innovative project exploring what the arts and humanities can bring to the study of law is to be supported by funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

Professor Gary Watt (pictured) from the University of Warwick’s School of Law has been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, enabling him to devote the next three years to his interdisciplinary research.

Professor Watt has a longstanding interest in the relationship between law and rhetoric, and has been committed in his teaching and research to the appreciation of law by the critical lights of the arts and humanities.

Through the project, Professor Watt will test his theory that law’s activities, especially advocacy and judgment in Common Law courts, are better appreciated as creative and artistic processes of production, including the production of persuasive narratives, satisfactory outcomes, and plausible facts, rather than as scientific processes of fact-finding and discovery of abstract truth.

He will go on to ask whether this way of appreciating law can help us better to understand how judgments are formed in “courts of popular opinion” through traditional and social media.

Professor Watt said: “The Leverhulme Fellowship gives me a sustained opportunity to pursue my passion for interdisciplinary work.

“Hopefully my work will lead to a deeper appreciation of what it means to talk of ‘post-truth politics’, ‘fake news’ and ‘trial by twitter’.”

As part of the project Professor Watt would like to create an online resource to encourage general public awareness of the methods by which social and political performance persuades us to adopt particular points of view.

He added: “I hope this research will encourage legal scholars and law students to take seriously the possibility that law’s activities might be elucidated by the lights of humanities’ scholarship.

“I think the health of the legal profession, as well as the health of social and political debate, depends on it.”

Professor Watt has published books on law and literature, rhetorical performance in Shakespeare and the relationship between law and dress. He was also responsible for the creation of the Law and Humanities journal with Warwick Law’s Paul Raffield, which he continues to co-edit today.

He is also general editor of the six-book series A Cultural History of Law, which is due to be published later this year.

25 January 2019