Development of Empirical
Techniques and Theory
This chapter explores research methods for law through a journey that has been an unfinished part of my life’s work. It seeks to frame some of the choices that are open to empirical researchers and the political and ethical dimensions to which these choices in turn give rise. It does not provide pro forma solutions but rather is intended to illustrate possible ways forward in terms of method and in terms of encouraging prospective researchers to reflect upon their role and the role of potential respondents. It is as subjective as all research with the strengths and weaknesses that this implies. It is not meant to be a model for others but an example of how one individual negotiated part of his research life. It is premised on the basis that law cannot be considered apart from other aspects of social organisation and is worthy of study because of its intimate relationship to social control and the regulation of disputes.
My first empirical research project, carried out with my colleague John Baldwin, provides a salutary example of the excitement and demoralisation confronting the researcher, of the unavoidable politics and ethics of research, and of the values and limitations of attempts to reach a wider understanding of how individuals are treated within institutional settings. It is a cautionary tale but one that I believe also illustrates how lone scholars can make a contribution and through the process itself learn from the experience of research so as to enrich later projects.
Our initial research project, started in 1974, had a relatively closed objective. Considerable political controversy centred upon the jury, an institution that