International Environmental Law Interest Group: Roundtable on Research Methodologies

Article excerpt

This panel was convened at 9:00 a.m., Friday, March 25, by its moderator, Sara L. Seck of the University of Western Ontario, who introduced the panelists: Edith Brown Weiss of Georgetown University Law Center; Jutta Brunnee of the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law; Cinnamon Carlarne of the Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University; and Benedict Kingsbury of New York University School of Law. **

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY SARA L. SECK ([dagger])

The purpose of this roundtable on research methodologies is to start a discussion within the International Environmental Law Interest Group of the rich and varied scholarly approaches for researching and understanding international environmental law and its institutions. International environmental law scholarship is sometimes described as "immature." To "mature," it is said that scholars need to reflect critically on research methodologies and their approach to legal analysis) International environmental law is not alone. For example, a recent publication on the methods of human rights research describes international human rights legal research as too often embracing "wishful thinking," rather than explicitly considering "method." (2) There is no doubt that international environmental law scholars are likely to be both "for" greater environmental protection, and "for" international law as offering a solution to environmental problems. Critical international law scholars have drawn attention to the need to beware of the uncritical analysis that can arise, given that international lawyers have a vested interest in international law. (3) Critical environmental law scholars have drawn attention to the need for environmental lawyers to "acknowledge that their vision of international environmental law reflects one version of environmentalism." (4) Moreover, there are many methodological challenges that face scholars of environmental law due to its interdisciplinary and multi-jurisdictional nature, and the speed and scale of legal and regulatory change, among other issues. (5) In this light, a discussion of method is in order.

The interest group is fortunate to be able to hear from four exceptional scholars. Jutta Brunnee spoke first about the challenge of engaging in interdisciplinary research involving international relations theory. (6) She noted that different theories of compliance are found in international relations theory, and that underlying assumptions are often not stated or questioned. As a result, whether one adopts a rationalist approach or a constructivist approach to international relations will have radically different implications for the questions that one asks, with methodological implications. She suggested that one value of interdisciplinary work from a constructivist perspective is that it provides an opportunity to understand legal norms as social norms, and to consider the traits of legality that distinguish law from other forms of ordering. Brunnee noted that it is dangerous to dabble in interdisciplinary work involving international relations, due to the tendency to caricature. She recommended working together with international relations scholars, and noted the importance of stating assumptions and of remembering limitations.

Edith Brown Weiss spoke at length about an empirical research project that she conducted during the late 1980s involving 40 researchers from 10 different countries. (7) She noted that environmental issues may require interdisciplinary research, and that social science methods can assist in understanding critical international environmental law problems. When collaborating with others from different disciplines, Brown Weiss stressed that there is a need to ensure that everyone is involved in the initial project design, and that, as the project develops, everyone is interpreting the collected data in the same way. She noted the importance of keeping an open mind, as initial assumptions may turn out to be wrong, creating a need to refine the analytical framework. …