07 January 2015

REVIEW: Law and Communication (St. Petersburg, 11-12 December 2014)

Review by Dmitry Poldnikov (Moscow)

International conference: "Law and Communication" (St. Petersburg, 11-12 December 2014)
The international conference "Law and Communication" was organized at St. Petersburg State University, Faculty of Law, to honour the 60th anniversary of professor Andrey Polyakov, the leading protagonist of the "law-as-communication" legal theory in Russia. This occasion attracted over 70 reporters (theoreticians of law, philosophers, practitioners) who collaborate with professor Polyakov and share his approach to study law.
Russian scholars came not only from St. Petersburg and Moscow, but also from Kaliningrad, Krasnoyarsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Tambov, Tomsk, Volgograd, Vladivostok. Foreign colleagues represented Belarus, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, and USA.
Russian key-note presentations were made by Mikhail Antonov (St. Petersburg), Ilya Chestnov (St. Petersburg), Valentina Lapayeva (Moscow), Valery Lasarev (Moscow), Jenevra Lukovskaya (St. Petersburg), Leonid Mamut (Moscow), Vladimir Syrykh (Moscow), Elena Timoshina (St. Petersburg).
Among the renowned foreign participants were Wilfried Bergmann (Petersburger Dialog e.V.), Edoardo Fittipaldi (Milan), Werner Krawietz (Münster), Norbert Rouland (Aix-Marseille), William Simons (Leiden, Trento, Tartu), Mark Van Hoecke (Gent), Csaba Varga (Budapest).
Despite a variety of topics, most participants of the conference found their crossing points in the subject-centred perspective and the plurality of approaches to study the complex phenomenon of law in the period of post-modernity. The main ideas of the key-note presentations have been already developed and published in the two-volume "Festschrift" for professor Andrey Polyakov (Alef-Press, 2014, in Russian).
The main reason for a legal historian to participate at the conference (and to write a review thereof) is to foster the dialogue between legal history and legal theory in the methodological field. One of the major claims of Andrey Polyakov (and the St. Petersburg school of legal theoreticians, which goes back to Leon Petrazycki) is that law, in all its complexity, is basically a way of communication between human beings. This communication is based on the psychological interpretation of legal texts which leads to social interaction through claims, duties and liabilities. One can find similar perspective on law in Van Hoecke’s «Law as Communication» (2002) published almost simultaneously with Polyakov’s habilitation thesis (2001). Both professors underline the importance of communication or interaction between the subjects to create, develop and legitimate the law. This ontological perspective on law justifies the need for "multi-level approach" (Krawietz) to study and to uncover the "unsolvable enigma of law" (Chestnov).
Legal historians could also benefit from these methodological tenets, especially when dealing with the medieval disputes among creators and practitioners of the learned law (ius commune). Yet, legal theoreticians still underestimate the importance of this heritage. Apparently due to insufficient knowledge of history. For example, in Russian translation (2012) of Van Hoecke’s "Law as Communication" (2002) medieval learned law was called "primarily a matter of power" (instead of "authority", as in the English original). Although Van Hoecke’s own claim that "Legal science was also a matter of authority, not of rational consensus" (p.6) is also debatable. Most researchers of the medieval learned law would agree that it was based on both authority and reason (ratio), as Renoux-Zagamé put it.
Hopefully, the "law-as-communication" theory would encourage interdisciplinary communication to justify circulation of a saying: «historicus iuris sine philosopho iuris parum valet, philosophus iuris sine historico iuris nihil».

Conference web-page: (in Russian)

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