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How to Understand Interdisciplinarity in Law? Reflections on Experiences in the Law and the Inner Self Project and the Nordic Summer University

Talya is a senior postdoctoral researcher in the Law and the Inner Self Project, leading the work on the 6th body of jurisprudence (the jurisprudence of digital transformations).

Technology involves a lot of material practices, and these are deeply embedded in society, culture, and politics. This includes law. One example is the continuity and change of the legal idea of the ‘inner self’; a forum internum which contains emotions, desires, memories, pain, and thoughts. Studying the inner self, in an age of neuro and cyber technology, requires expertise in science and technology studies (STS), legal philosophy, legal history, human rights law, and private law, among many other disciplines. In other words, it requires a combination of knowledge and skills from more than one discipline and an intensive research methodology which crosses multiple academic domains. Such an approach is a necessity if we are to be able to analyse the ‘inner self’ and the normative questions that crystallize around it.


The question is, therefore, how to analyse and establish efficient legal and ethical safeguards to protect human beings and their ‘inner selves’ in the current technological era? Its implication, for law as well as any other fields, is that it becomes ever more essential to critically analyse the technologies themselves and their social implications. The normative questions arising from neuro and AI technologies and questions regarding ‘how to solve real life problems’ transgress boundaries of law as an academic discipline. This requires scholars to prioritize how law, with its strengths and its shortcomings, co-produces multiple technologies and how law is formative in creating and sustaining narratives around the technological. Acknowledging this co-constitutive power of law in regulating technology is becoming more influential in law and technology scholarship. The next step, however, is rigorously engaging with histories and opportunities of cross-fertilizations while maintaining the centrality of law. This requires an (academic) infrastructure that promotes inter and transdisciplinarity, as more than words, but genuinely.


Among many academic initiatives that prioritize inter and transdisciplinary research, the Nordic Summer University (NSU) is a very special one. The NSU has been established as an academic institution by a group of Nordic scientists and scholars in 1950 following the aftermath of World War II. Since then, it has organized symposia that attract international participants across disciplines which include philosophy, political science, law, gender studies, ecology, artistic research, critical theory, sociology, natural sciences, technology, pedagogy and so on (see Enquist Källgren).  Started as a peace project in the Nordic and Baltic region, the NSU is still today comprised of ‘study circles’, each of which emphasize that interdisciplinary research should be, by nature, inclusive, open, and democratic. The highest governing body of the NSU is the General Assembly, which consists of representatives elected from each study circle. All participants, from newcomers to more experienced participants, are encouraged to have their have their voice and help to shape the development of the organisation (e.g. which study circles to fund, how to organize the budget, what should be the next priority in research and so on).

 In other words, the NSU is grounded on values including transparency, inclusivity, openness, and sustainability and the organization is emblematic for interdisciplinarity and cross-fertilizations between multiple academic domains. It is not a coincidence that the NSU provided the institutional home for women’s studies and feminist scholarship for decades. They did this much earlier than any other European academic organization. Well known scholars like Slavoj Zizek, Martha Nussbaum, and Katherine Hayles were among many notable keynote speakers during previous summer symposia.


Included is also the relationship of the NSU to technology, which is where it could contribute to interdisciplinary legal research on the inner self. Technology has been one of the main pillars of the NSU and how it fueled interdisciplinary research. Niels Bohr, the famous Danish physicist, participated in the first study circle on science and technology in the 1950s. Bohr who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 was not only a physicist but also a philosopher and a promoter of interdisciplinary research, showing how this is not something of today but was customary already at that time.


The legacy of this study circle still continues in exploring the open futures of human-technology relations and promotes interdisciplinary discussions on AI and neurotechnology in science, philosophy, law, humanities and art. NSU and its research circle on human-technology futures aim at generating values, practices and frameworks for analysing the societal implications of emerging technologies, as well as providing an open academic space for discussions. The experiences in the NSU are illustrations of how law and technology scholarship can benefit from participating in existing academic cultures that have for decades been based on openness, democracy and inclusivity in theory and in practice. This is of particular importance when analysing the inner self and its future relevance in law and other disciplines.



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