‘It’s becoming more difficult to carry out long-term work on a topic’ – Anuscheh Farahat

‘It’s becoming more difficult to carry out long-term work on a topic’ – Anuscheh Farahat

Legal scholar Anuscheh Farahat on critical trends in the support of scholarship

How fully realized is the ideal of academic freedom in the discipline of jurisprudence?

In this country at present, I see no acute threat to academic freedom. However, in order for scholarship to truly develop independently and freely, a number of conditions must be met. First of all, it is necessary to maintain wide access to as much of the literature as possible, which can be endangered by the extremely high pricing and the monopolistic structure of the publishing landscape. It is also important to recognise a variety of methods. I work primarily with juridical methods, but in order to see how the law functions in other areas of life, I must also work interdisciplinarily and use methodologies from other fields. It is in no way self-evident that these methodologies will be recognised in my field, or by the parties who promote or fund scholarly research. However, this is slowly beginning to change. Today, for example, the supporting and funding bodies regularly call for interdisciplinarity. Mind you, there are also structural barriers; in my experience, interdisciplinary work requires a lot of time, especially in collaborative projects. One has to first internalise and understand the methodologies and terminologies of other disciplines. This is difficult to arrange when the focus is on the production of ever more – and ever faster – scholarly ‘output’.

 

‘You have the danger that scholarship has lately been pushed in a specific direction, which can be problematic for niche topics.’

 

And what about access to literature?

Because I work at a large university and a Max Planck Institute, the conditions are very good for me. But the smaller the university, the more inadequate the financial resources, and this has already affected the publishing landscape. For universities, in turn, it is increasingly more expensive to purchase packages from international scholarly publishers. On the other hand, there is a strong trend towards free, open-access online journals, whose scholarly reputation has improved in recent years. Thus, as the prestige publications become more expensive, scholarship becomes more strongly visible in the internet. But without extensive access to the major houses’ publications, it still doesn’t work.

It’s not just the universities that need money, it’s individual projects as well. What kinds of experiences and observations have you had with regards to funding applications

We have a very strong third-party support landscape. In the EU as well as on a national level, there are many well-endowed and thematically open programmes. However, it’s becoming more difficult to work on a single topic long-term – and also to receive third-party funding for it – that is not already on the legal agenda, or whose societal relevance is not immediately recognisable. In addition, some third-party funding agencies are increasingly writing the content of their programmes themselves. Here you have the danger that scholarship has lately been pushed in a specific direction, which can be problematic for niche topics. In this regard, above all I think that the basic endowments of professorships and research institutions should be improved.

A well-known example is climate research, which has come under intense attacks from industry and also society. Recently, its scientific validity has even been thrown into question. Do you experience comparable attacks in legal studies?

Our situation isn’t comparable with that of climate research, but it’s definitely still the case that things are not politically neutral. It sometimes happens that positions are considered untenable for political reasons. Unlike in the climate sciences, we are closer to politicians, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Every law is first a political result that we have to interpret with the help of juridical methods.

Nevertheless, there are often plenty of differing opinions.

If a debate gets particularly heated – such as the case with migration law and refugee protections, for example – you do hear the charge that you’re insisting upon an interpretation that really represents your own position. But you can refute such attacks or turn them back on the attacker.

Interview was conducted by Dirk Liesemer.

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