| The CRDP: an interdisciplinary legal research program|
From constitutional law to contemporary legal research
Gradual changes in the approach to research
Features of the CRDPís research
CRDP researchers work essentially on forms of contemporary law, the conditions in which they emerge and relations with other forms of normativity and social regulation. Over the last 40 years, our research outlook has gradually evolved into an original approach.
Initially, the CRDP did research mainly on Canadian and Quebec constitutional law. In the 1960ís, as the state developed, so did public and, in particular, administrative law. This generated a need for research on regional administrative structures, health care law, higher education law, radio and television law, law and accession to sovereignty, etc.
Research on health care law led to the study of emerging norms in medical ethics, and new policies pertaining to biomedical and genetics technologies. Research was also done on the ethical, legal and social issues raised by xenotransplants, which in turn led to studies on the relationships between humans, and plants and animals. From radio and television law, the CRDPís research moved to policy governing new communications technologies. This led to the first French-language publication on cyberspace law. Other projects dealt with the protection of digitalized personal information, dispute resolution over the Internet, electronic commerce, democratization of access to law and government online. At the same time, our research on legal theory focussed on the conditions for the appearance of new social and legal policy. Inspired by legal pluralism, empirical and theoretical studies examined the ideological stakes riding on legal rulings, legal and political forms of Aboriginal governance, contemporary public right of action, legal processing of social problems and the legal consequences of ethno-cultural diversity.
As our areas of study became more diverse, we had to adjust our approach to research. This required constant effort with respect to theoretical and conceptual unification. Since our work was initially oriented towards the study of new developments in administrative law, it was inevitable we would challenge the traditional distinctions between public and private law. By the mid-1970s, the CRDP was already recognized for its work in new areas of contemporary law. The barrier between the study of new law and that of social change was quickly broken down, and the emergence of technological society was used as general reference. However, in the early 1990s, this perspective slowly reversed. Rather than seeing change through the prism of law, a number of teams found it useful to reverse the point of view and study developments in law as resulting from social and technological change. This began a trend away from studying the way that law handles innovation and towards how social changes affect future law. This orientation still underlies much of our research.
The reversal required the elimination of the often artificial distinction between the legal and social fields. While law is generally seen as a foundation for social relations, if not as a structured and fixed form of social interaction, it can also be viewed as the result of such relations: as both produced by and a producer of social relations. This perspective, which ranks the study of law with that of the human and social sciences, provides an alternative to the traditional legal dogma.
Today, the work done at the CRDP is widely recognized for its focus. Almost every research project is funded by grants, and brings together teams of four, five or up to 70 researchers. A number of projects require the collaboration of researchers from abroad, and the teams are generally made up of university researchers and professors from various disciplines, laboratories, departments, faculties and institutions. Most of our work is located at a crossroads between disciplines. Research on law, and information and communications technologies requires legal theory, communications theory, computer engineering and political science. Research on law and new social relations often involves law, sociology, economics, criminology and anthropology. Likewise, a number of projects in law, biotechnology and community bring together jurists, doctors, geneticists, philosophers, ethicists, sociologists and biologists.
A characteristic feature of the CRDPís work is continuity. While some projects are carried out within relatively short research cycles of three to five years, a number extend over ten or more years, and follow the course of social and technological change. This sustained effort has resulted in the creation of extensive research networks, which now form the basis of the international multidisciplinary Law and Changes Network led by the CRDP.
All of the projects initiated by CRDP researchers presuppose the active participation of students, whether they are doing an undergraduate internship, a Masterís thesis, a Phd, or postdoctoral research at the Centre. Every student at the CRDP can count on academic, logistic and financial support from the Centre and its research teams. We consider that their contribution to the CRDPís work is essential to the development of research and knowledge in law.