21 May 2015

COLLOQUIUM: "The sacred and the layman: popular literatures of law" (Oxford, September 4-5 2015)

WHAT The sacred and the layman: popular literatures of law, colloquium

WHEN September 4-5 2015

WHERE Maison française Oxford

Why and who do we write legal books for ?

Is this question a naive one ? Isn’t the answer obvious within the community of jurists ? Serious legal books - those considered as scientific - are meant to be read by jurists, either administrators, lawyers, judges, solicitors, insurers, bailiffs, business jurists, professors and, of course, students. It is therefore of no importance if citizens or clients sometimes happen to open a legal book, out of curiosity (let us precise, though, that legal essays appear here as an exception, inasmuch as they address a wider public than that of jurists). Therefore, one should not confuse legal science as a specific kind of literature with possible profane works which deal with law to educate popular masses, or to vulgarize law. From this point of view, legal literature is unique, and distinguishes (we then trust the intuition of the « competent » jurist) the sacred and the layman.

Is that so simple though ? For instance, can we consider a versification of the Civil code, a legal guide for everyday life, a guide of the citizen or the farmer, a legal journal treating of labour law, to be legal works ? In other words, it appears delicate to state the uniqueness of legal literature and to reject every work not considered as scientific out of it (from the jurists’ perspective). The risk is to forget that since Rome was created, at least another kind of legal literature exists, which does not target the jurists but can nonetheless be considered as legal because it takes law as its main topic. It is then possible to consider that legal literature consists of all the (un)published texts mainly concerning law. One has to admit that this kind of legal literature is not only written by and for the jurists. It then becomes possible to include in the field of legal literature all the discursive forms and all the different types of books, including those who seem to be works of popularization. Another legal and popular literature thus exists beside scientific literature.

The existence of such a popular legal literature should by no means be a surprise to the historians and jurists : raw data is enough to prove its existence. The number of such publications and their success in the French issue is a sufficient proof. One can certainly venture that it is not an isolated case, especially regarding the British literature on the subject. It is then our task to prove that these works can be considered as popular in the sense that they aim at a wide public of non-jurists. Therefore, they are popular inasmuch as they enable law to flee the hands of its "priests" or specialists.

The organizers of this colloquium wish to highlight a part of this forgotten legal literature which addresses not the jurists, but some "users" of law (architects, entrepreneurs, veterinarians), certain social categories including working masses (rural areas, industry workers, storekeepers, craftsmen) or directly the general public (if the latter exists). The forms and the media of this literature are numerous : specialized legal journals (for example Les questions pratiques de législation industrielle et d’économie sociale), books (« Avocats conseils », codes for all, the Armand Colin collection « Les petits manuels du foyer », « Le droit mis à la portée de tout le monde » by Ch. Delagrave) or even newspapers.

They then intend to gather some researchers, whether they are, for instance, historians, jurists, historians of literature, sociologists, to try to keep up a reflection which concerns the following axes:

Axis n°1: identifications
Who writes these works ? Is it about jurists writing for non-jurists? Are the addressees identified and recognizable ? What are the places of production and reception of these speeches ? A typology could be ventured and would be desirable, as well as national chronologies (in particular to highlight the link between this literature and political changes).

Axis n°2: weight
What does this literature represent from an economic point of view? Its circulation is essential to understand its possible weight. It raises the question of the access to law under a new angle.

Axis n°3: comparisons
Are these publications and these texts of the same invoice, the same shape or the same morphology as the scientific said legal literature ? In other words, can we speak of works of popularization or are they a particular kind of legal literature ? What about the vocabulary and the language employed in these works ? What about their style and their method ? Can we also compare these works with guides such as medical or agronomic ones, for example?

Axis n°4: methods and ends
The dimension or the educational function here seems essential. Do these works contain a program or an ambition ? This implies wondering about the purpose of such a literature : is it supposed to be useful (learning how to defend one’s rights ; learning how to draft a contract) or does it answer to sociopolitical purposes ?

Axis n°5: effects
Are these works actually more understandable and more accessible ? Are the simplification and the popularization efficient ? Beyond that, one can wonder about the effects of this literature on substantial law : is the law described in these works completely the same as the one presented to the jurists ? Is there not a difference between law for the jurists and law for the layman ?
It is possible to raise the question of the loss of power implied by the spreading of legal knowledge. One can also wonder about the democratization of this knowledge as to the completing of concrete democracy, for instance.

Scientific organization :

Laetitia Guerlain, University of Bordeaux,
Nader Hakim, University of Bordeaux,

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