Enhancing Scholarship Through Mentorship and Appraisal: The CLS’S Inaugural Sociolegal Studies Early Career Workshop
This post originally appeared in the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. We are grateful for the opportunity to reprint this blog post.
It soon dawned on me how wise this approach was. I didn’t present my paper, but someone else did, and in the process they identified key gaps in my arguments and opportunities for strengthening my academic thought. Rather than honing my oral presentation skills through attending the workshop I spent two days reading and critiquing the work of others, and similarly being open to vigorous appraisals of my own paper.
These exchanges are an important step in the development of law and society scholarship in South Africa and the continent more widely. Despite a plethora of formal and informal legal systems existing in Africa, as well as diverse understandings of law, social rules and ‘rights’ across the continent, the study of law and society is a relatively new field in African tertiary institutions.
What was needed most amongst the early career scholars in attendance at the workshop was not a line up of paper presentations, but conversations with similarly placed scholars as well as experts on how to enhance the quality of their work, and find tools to relate their research interests to broader national, regional and global debates.
The workshop went beyond what I expected in addressing these needs. Each participant enjoyed an hour-long session devoted purely to the analysis and critique of their work by mentors and scholars in attendance. The engagement was enhanced by the fact that it was a small group of only six authors and six mentors, enabling everyone to have the chance to share their views in an intimate and relaxed setting.
The workshop papers covered a wide range of topics including women’s rights and the payment of bridewealth, the governance of migration, legal responses to marital rape, strategies aimed at ensuring food security, Afrocentric communitarianism and the right to health, and the role of due diligence in addressing sexual violence. Case studies were drawn from a number of countries including Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.
Through having my work reviewed, as well as reviewing the work of others, it became clear that many early career scholars in attendance encountered similar challenges in their academic writing and thought. For example, being largely schooled in law meant that many scholars struggled to engage with empirical fieldwork findings, which is a key facet of much law and society scholarship. Furthermore because most scholars were based in South Africa and Africa many had not carefully reflected on how their research could be of relevance to audiences further afield. Having US-based law and society scholars in attendance (Mark Fathi Massoud of UC Santa Cruz and Susan Sterett incoming to the University of Maryland) helped to locate their work more broadly and better prepare it for publication in international journals.
The workshop was therefore both unique and very effective, as all participants focused on actively assisting and engaging with each other’s work. Many thanks go to the organisers (Kelley Moult, Dee Smythe, Mark Fathi Massoud, Diane Jefthas, Nolundi Luwaya, Jemima Thomas, and Vitima Jere) for arranging a highly enjoyable, innovative and constructive workshop, which will hopefully form part of a much more long-term academic and intellectual journey.