Convened by Mark Fathi Massoud of the University of California, Santa Cruz (USA), and Kelley Moult and Dee Smythe of the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the first Sociolegal Studies Early Career Scholars Workshop in Africa took place at the Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town Faculty of Law, 17-20 August 2017.
The conveners are grateful to the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law (including Dean Penny Andrews and the team at the UCT Centre of Law & Society for hosting the workshop), to the Law and Society Association for a small grant award, to the six mentors and six participants and others who attended the sessions, to Law & Society Review for its co-sponsorship of the workshop, and to the Fulbright specialist program for its support of LSR co-editor Susan Sterett’s visit and participation in all events.
The conveners selected scholars to present their work in a competitive process. Six participants and two alternates came from a range of countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa, with most completing PhDs in Cape Town. These new voices in South African sociolegal scholarship presented their work against a backdrop of Table Mountain -- one of the most beautiful university settings in the world.
The workshop began with an informal dinner at a local restaurant, where participants shared their backgrounds and connected with one another and their mentors. The participants had interests beyond sociolegal studies -- one is completing a novel, another writes and presents poetry, and another anonymously records vocals for the South African house-music scene.
Following the opening dinner, two days of intensive discussions of manuscripts followed. Professional development and building community is difficult at the best of times in doctoral education, where writing can feel isolating, often more so in PhD programs without coursework attached. Participants and mentors approached their work with care for one another as people, writers, and colleagues. Many participants commented that they began to see themselves as sociolegal scholars rather than as lawyers, where much of their training had been. Working together facilitated discussions of the field of law and society as a whole and its history. Discussions of methodology involved thinking through specificity, generality, and abstraction in theorizing case studies. Shorthand reminders helped participants both to be immersed in fieldwork and to theorize. “Zooming out” of one’s case became a favorite concept. Participants learned about matching methods to questions, how to review each others’ work, matching review to the paper to write effective peer reviews (and what makes some not helpful), and how different journals process papers. We shared thoughts to overcoming challenges in writing, including everything from taking next steps to take to developing one’s voice, implicitly drawing on excellent already published advice.
In each of the six individual paper sessions, a senior sociolegal scholar began by presenting the early career scholar’s paper, stating where the scholarly intervention lay, and opening the conversation to the group to provide supportive and constructive feedback. The various papers engaged on topics as broad as family law, violence, food security, and health -- and each is theorizing from African experiences to change what we know in the sociolegal world. Participants commented that hearing their work in someone else’s voice contributed to intellectual growth. The conveners aim to make this an annual event and to build a network of young sociolegal scholars on the African continent.