Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism
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Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism

Edited by Shauhin Talesh, Elizabeth Mertz and Heinz Klug

This insightful Research Handbook provides a definitive overview of the New Legal Realism (NLR) movement, reaching beyond historical and national boundaries to form new conversations. Drawing on deep roots within the law-and-society tradition, it demonstrates the powerful virtues of new legal realist research and its attention to the challenges of translation between social science and law. It explores an impressive range of contemporary issues including immigration, policing, globalization, legal education, and access to justice, concluding with and examination of how different social science disciplines intersect with NLR.
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Chapter 10: Transgressing boundaries through new Legal Realist approaches: Affinity and collaboration within ethnographic research on immigration law and policy

Susan Bibler Coutin


New Legal Realist approaches often examine law-in-practice, as experienced by the agents who carry out the law, the individuals who are law’s targets, and the communities that law brings into being. Ethnography, a flexible research process that positions researchers within these communities, is a particularly appropriate a new legal realist research method. Using the example of ethnographic research regarding U.S. immigration law and policy, the author explores how crossing boundaries between law and social sciences, research and praxis, and individual and collaborative research produces new legal realist approaches. Law and social sciences can be bridged by emphasizing their affinities, such as interviewing, note-taking, crafting papers or statements, deploying evidence to substantiate arguments, citing relevant studies and legal opinions, and gaining insight into social contexts. Boundaries between research and praxis can be crossed through engaged research and through fieldwork that places researchers in the role of practitioners, thus facilitating the translation of research findings into policy arenas. Assembling interdisciplinary research teams crosses boundaries between individual and collaborative work and furthers new legal realist approaches by making “translation” intrinsic to the research process itself.

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