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Research Methods: By Discipline/Subject

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The following nomenclature of legal research methodologies may be referred to in Research Methods in Law, 2nd Ed by Watkin & Burton (Routledge, 2018). This is the set text for NUS Law PhD students taking the module LC6009 Graduate Research Seminar. The split between doctrinal and non-doctrinal methods is a contestable framework based on Ishwara Bhat's Idea and Methods of Legal Research (OUP, 2020).

Doctrinal Non-Doctrinal

Doctrinal Research

"Research which provides a systematic exposition of the rules governing a particular legal category, analyses the relationship between rules, explains areas of difficulty and, perhaps, predicts future developments." (Pearce, Campbell & Harding, 1987) Doctrinal research "takes an insider's view of the law ... to critically determine 'what the law is'." (Hutchinson, 2018)

Socio-legal Studies

An "approach to the law and legal processes" which "... covers the theoretical and empirical analysis of law as a social phenomenon." (Economic and Social Research Council, 1994) It encompasses a diverse range of scholarship carried out under its name, such as feminist work and critical legal studies.

Philosophical Research in Law

"Philosophical research in law takes place in two spheres: first, at the general level, where theoretical discussion is conducted as part of the final levels of reasoning in the matter of a particular law; and the second, when exclusive jurisprudential inquiry probes into the deeper theoretical aspects of the nature of law, legal system, and legal concepts, and approaches." (Bhat, 2020)

Empirical Legal Research

As a subset of socio-legal studies, empirical research refers to the "study of law, legal processes and legal phenomena using social research methods, such as interviews, observations or questionnaires." (Burton, 2018)

Legal History/Historical Method

"Internal legal history is the study of legal doctrine and of its processes ... External legal history examines the law in context ... Internal history may be described as the history of law but external legal history encroaches onto the political, intellectual and social realm in ways that make it difficult to distinguish from general historiography." (Handler, 2018)

Critical Legal Method

Critical Legal Studies "has been influenced by a variety of currents in contemporary radical social theory, but does not reflect any agreed upon set of political tenets or methodological approaches." (Kennedy & Klare, 1994) A 'critical legal method', if there is such a thing, critiques all modes of production for legal knowledge, including itself (Minkkinen, 2018).

Comparative Study of Law

Comparative law allows one to "critically illuminate a legal system." "The aim must be to try to define the frame of perception and understanding of a legal community so as to explicate how a community thinks about the law and why it thinks about the law in the way it does." (Legrand, 1996)

Feminist Approach to Law and Legal Process

"Aligned under the banner of modern feminism are a diversity of perspectives regarding the causes and consequences of unequal gender power relations, the ways in which the law and state have played a role in their creation and maintenance, and the most effective strategies for their eradication." (Munro, 2018)


Economic Analysis of Law

"Ways in which economic theory and insight can help resolve issues of legal decision-making by providing both a methodology for the analysis of the legal reality, and a normative framework and workable criteria to favour some alternatives over others." (Sanchez-Graells, 2018)

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