Annual Conference

Max Planck Law Annual Conference 2024

Call for Papers

Max Planck Law Annual Conference, 21–22 October 2024

The Max Planck Law Annual Conference 2024 seeks to address law and its complex relationship to power.

This is an issue that has been preoccupying scholars and practitioners from the very beginnings of political and legal thought. Nonetheless revisiting it seems apposite. In 2024, over a third of the global population will go to the polls, variously determining, influencing, or affirming who holds political power. The capacity of the law to enable or defend the democratic process and sustain human rights is a constant theme in current political debate. At the international level, the extent to which international law works to contain and channel the exercise of state power is being tested.

Conceptually, the interrelationship of law and power is a complex one that rewards both empirical investigation and theoretical illumination. Currently, law is frequently presented as an alternative to untrammelled power, eg in discourses focusing on constitutionalism, the rule of law, the separation of powers, human rights, and the rules-based international order. From a more critical perspective, law is analysed as an expression of existing power relations and value systems, expanding the agency of dominant actors and constraining that of less powerful ones, whether in the international system or within individual societies. On a more fundamental level, law constitutes, delimits, and legitimizes the power of individuals, groups, organizations, and states in relation to each other. Law empowers, constrains, and structures, all the while being subject to the influence of powerful social forces.

Themes to be explored can be found in virtually all areas of investigation covered by researchers in the Max Planck Law network. Without seeking to exclude other themes and topics, just a few examples shall be mentioned.

Freedom of contract, one of the fundamental and traditionally important legal concepts, serves to allocate power between the contracting parties and the legal system which upholds the contract and defines the boundaries of contractual freedom. In a radical new departure, non-human animals and entire ecosystems are now afforded legal rights and even legal subjectivity in a drive to constrain human power over nature.

In the realm of economic governance, meanwhile, laws now seek to curtail the power of global corporations over consumers and workers across borders, at the same time extending the reach of (for example) European legislation into the territories of states in the Global South where European companies operate. This can be read as an extension of the established role of legislation in safeguarding property rights on the one hand and protecting the agency of trade unions and grassroots movements on the other.

In a similar vein, anti-discrimination laws which protect the rights of minoritized groups in society, seeking to correct power imbalances, have themselves recently become the object of a conflict over values and power in the corporate world and in universities. Intellectual property law is evolving to strike a balance between innovators’ rights and public interest in areas such as AI or in allowing for the most effective mobilization of technology against climate change, thereby adjusting the balance of power between innovators, users of technology, and society at large.

In criminal law, meanwhile, initiatives to criminalize or decriminalize activities ranging from certain financial transactions or the consumption of mind-altering substances to unwanted sexual acts demonstrate how changes in social and cultural power impact how the line between the licit and illicit is drawn.

And across all areas of law, we see the effects of power through mechanisms such as ideology, differential access to justice, dynamics within research institutions, and the formal requirements and informal social structures mediating recruitment to the legal professions.

We invite proposals for contributions to the conference theme from all researchers at the nine Max Planck Institutes in our network, from PhD students to Directors. Contributions can take one of the following forms:

  • an individual presentation of 15­–20 minutes, to feature in the Research Showcases section of the conference;
  • a panel, seminar, or workshop organized by a Department or Institute to feature in the Departmental Showcases section of the conference.

Please send proposals, including an abstract of no more than 500 words, to petersson@law.mpg.de before your summer break if possible and by 30 August at the very latest.

Registration will open in early July.

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