Document Type


Publication Date

January 2011


Assume that you are attending a symposium on comparative law being held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Society for Comparative Law. Comparative law scholars from many universities are present, and a few legal practitioners are attending as well. One speaker begins as follows: “This talk will be about complex adaptive systems—the emerging science of complexity.” Based on experience in similar contexts, I would anticipate several common reactions among members of the audience. The most common might be “he’s in the wrong room.” Another set of reactions is likely to be “What? What’s that? Never heard of it!” A third might be “What possible relevance can that have for comparative law?” Beneath these specific responses—and less likely to be expressed—is an assumption that this type of scientific discussion is alien and potentially inimical to the world of comparative law. The “scientific” language of the subject is likely to seem foreign to many, and the idea of a tie to comparative law is often perceived as not only foreign, but also perhaps threatening.

I use this imagined scenario as a window into the topic of the symposium: methodological approaches to comparative law. It provides a perspective on thinking about comparative law methods and a means of locating those methods in relation to other potentially relevant academic pursuits. The reactions to which I refer reveal much about comparative law at the outset of the twenty-first century.