Evaluation of Recht im Kontext: “A constructive irritant of mainstream thinking in legal scholarship”

The Academic Advisory Board of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin has asked an external committee – consisting of  Marietta Auer (Universität Gießen), Pascale Cancik (Universität Osnabrück), Daniel Halberstam (University of Michigan), Klaus Hoffmann-Holland (Freie Universität Berlin) and Christopher McCrudden (Queen´s University Belfast/University of Michigan) – to evaluate the project Recht im Kontext, which had been working at the institute until 2017. The Evaluation Committee was asked to provide an assessment of the extent to which the program’s self-defined goals have been achieved as well as to give recommendations on how the project should proceed in its new home at Humboldt Universität. 


According to the evaluation report, the goal of the project was to re-situate German legal studies within a broader academic and interdisciplinary agenda. The first set of goals aimed at making German legal scholarship more interdisciplinary and international, the second at participating in the policy debates on legal education, while the third aimed to  conceptualize and –if possible– institutionalize an alternative vision of legal education or scholarship in an exemplary way. The project aimed – as the Committee stated – at no less than creating a space where law could reflect on itself, on its similarities and differences with the social sciences and the humanities, this leading to an enriched legal philosophy among lawyers and a greater understanding of law among non-lawyers and to the benefit of both. As the report summarizes, the project was trying “to integrate more international perspectives into the study and practice of German law; to show by example how a more contextual approach is more enriching than a purely doctrinally driven approach; to intervene in discussions and debates on the manner in which law is taught in Germany and to encourage more interdisciplinary research engaging with legal issues.”

Instruments and Impacts

According to the report, the project put together a suitable portfolio of instruments which made it possible to imagine an alternative kind of legal scholarship and to test it out on a regular basis: The lecture series Berliner Seminare Recht im Kontext was able – according to the Evaluation Committee – to draw an audience that was open to and even fond of discussing topics that went beyond doctrinal issues. The Committee states, that the publication series thereby created an enduring body of knowledge to also reach the academic mainstream. The Verfassungsblog, a partner of Recht im Kontext, was certainly one of the most visible elements of the project. The Committee considered the Verfassungsblog to be the most interesting and frequently read forums for constitutional law and policy; a “must read for those of us who are interested or engaged professionally in issues of public law and constitutional politics in Europe.” The Evaluation Committee also states that the topics of the conferences co-organized by Recht im Kontext were “timely and intensely challenging”. “The participants were very carefully chosen and this resulted not only in stimulating and lively conversations but a palpable sense of intellectual progress in addressing the chosen topic”.
The Evaluation Committee comes to the conclusion that there is no doubt that Recht im Kontext has established itself as a major hub of innovative and inspiring legal thinking, which serves the function of a “constructive irritant” to the academic legal mainstream”. Not only have its activities been noted across the German academic landscape, but internationally, too, its impact has been noticeable. According to the report, the project “was insofar able to adroitly position itself at the heart of the proposed shift in German legal academia that Germany’s highest official advisory council would eventually embrace.”


The Evaluation Committee reccomends that the project should continue its “efforts to challenge the institutional practice of German legal academia” and institutionalize in a certain way. The Committee sees the future of Recht im Kontext not only in the continuation of the conferences and the strengthening of the intra-disciplinary exchange between public law, private law and criminal law, but also in stronger efforts for the participation of academics from other universities and institutions throughout Germany. 
The Evaluation Committee points out that the project could indeed do more in actually changing the way legal academics are instructed by establishing a teaching component in the form of a Master’s program. Given that Berlin is an attractive location and has two law faculties as well as the critical mass of scholars to carry out the requisite teaching duties, the project could implement its goal of institutionalization of new forms of legal education. 
The Evaluation Committee emphasizes that Recht im Kontext has played a decisive role in the huge task of transforming German legal academia. In its short life, Recht im Kontext had already helped push German legal academia toward more global, interdisciplinary and self-reflective discussions. Recht im Kontext therefore left a “lasting imprint on the debate culture in legal scholarship”.