Pittsburgh, City of Bridges: Developing a Rational Approach to Interdisciplinary Discourse on Law

By Dau-Schmidt, Kenneth G. | Law & Society Review, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Pittsburgh, City of Bridges: Developing a Rational Approach to Interdisciplinary Discourse on Law


Dau-Schmidt, Kenneth G., Law & Society Review


Once a flat sea floor, millions of years of erosion have carved the surface of Allegheny County into a maze of ridges and valleys. Pittsburgh sits where the Monongahela River. . ., and the Allegheny River . . ., join to form the Ohio ....

With topography such as this, it is not surprising that there are so many bridges. One count reports over 2000 bridges of 8 feet span or greater....

Bridge engineers hold their conventions here. The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers guided riverboat tours featuring the bridges. It's virtually impossible to travel any notable distance without crossing a bridge.

(Bruce Cridlebaugh, Bridges and Tunnels of Pittsburgh, PA, http:// pittsburgh.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm? site=http%3A%2F%2F www.pghbridges.com)

Lauren Edelman's Presidential Address is daring, thought-provoking, and exciting. Edelman lays a sound foundation for understanding the economic analysis of law within the context of law and society (L&S) scholarship by outlining plausible arguments and examples for the embedded nature of rationality in law, culture, and politics and the endogeneity of law, society, and economic behavior. In so doing, Edelman not only offers insight for economists into the limitations of the neoclassical economic model, but also challenges law and society scholars of other disciplines to take account of what can be learned from the work of law and economics (L&E) scholars. Edelman's address represents multidisciplinary discourse at its best, challenging both sides to reflect on the basic assumptions of their disciplinary methods and divine what can be learned from the other's perspective. Let me offer a few reflections on Edelman's ideas, standing on my own side of the river amid the foundation for the bridge from economics to sociology that I have tried to build for a multidisciplinary discourse on law.

Why Now, Why This Particular Bridge?

In an unflattering comment on the rise of economic analysis in legal scholarship during the 1970s, Arthur Leff asked, "[w]hy . . . now . . . why this particular tunnel?" (1974:452). The same questions, of course, can be asked of Edelman's bridge-building project. I personally think that Edelman's timing for beginning construction of a bridge between L&S scholarship and L&E scholarship is impeccable.

Interdisciplinary exchanges can be enormously valuable, but they need the right overlap of examined questions and methodology between the disciplines to occur and be profitable (DauSchmidt 1997). Although pure transplants of methodology from one discipline to another have occurred and been useful,1 it is much more likely that scholars will see the implications of work from other disciplines if they are examining the same or similar social problems as scholars in the other discipline. Accordingly, some overlap in examined questions and methodology is desirable in order to promote interdisciplinary discourse. However, if there is too much overlap in examined questions and methodology, then the multiple disciplinary perspectives become redundant and no new insights can be gained from the exchange. An academic monoculture would be a very poor environment in which to examine social problems and is probably not even possible given the different ways in which people's brains approach problems. The goal, after all, is to build bridges among different disciplinary perspectives, not to force everyone to live on the same side of the river.

Although economics spent the better part of the twentieth century evolving in relative isolation from the other disciplines, in the 1960s a significant coalescence began among the disciplines with respect to examined questions and methodology, notably including the L&S movement and the L&E movement. Ironically, in economics, the first steps toward coalescence were undertaken by Ronald Coase, Gary Becker, and Richard Posner, scholars so wedded to the neoclassical economic model that they believed it should be applied to problems far afield of the traditional market analyses done by economists. …

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