Session details


The objectives of this satellite session are two-fold. First, we intend to establish the first step of a more vigorous scientific exchange between complex systems theorists, social scientists and legal theorists around the question of what is law, its various societal functions and how it evolves. This entails bringing together complexity scholars, legal scholars and scholars who are able to bridge the divide between these two communities, and start establishing a few common ideas and shared language. In this satellite session, we will lay the first bricks of such a foundation in order to enable future collaboration. Second, we intend to consider the relevance of the issues that lie at the intersection of complexity science and law to some of the most urgent governance problems of modern societies. The themes we have in mind include maintaining political stability in the face of large demographic and cultural shifts, such as those currently happening in Europe, managing human-environment systems and managing individual rights and collective goals in the information age. All of these problems involve developing laws and methods of legal decision-making that robustly manage complex systems, which are inherently hard to predict. We intend to engage with the question of how law can more directly take into account the complexity of the systems managed and the open-endedness of the policy problems we are faced with.

Tentative schedule

Morning Session (8.30-12.30): Law as a Complex System

Keynote speaker (8.30-9.00): Gillian Hadfield, University of Southern California, USA (to be confirmed)
Title: What is Law?

Session 1 (9.00-10.30): What is Law and how does it structure societal interactions?

We will seek papers that provide theory on the basic elements of legal systems and laws while opening up interdisciplinary perspectives on how those basic elements structure social interactions and create common expectations and a shared culture between individuals at the societal scale. Aside from legal scholars and modelers, we welcome inputs from behavioral ecology and related fields having studied legal order in other species, parallels with the creation of order in biological systems, inputs from cognitive scientists or psychologists, as well as historians, and political scientists.

Session 2 (10.45-11.45): What are the mechanisms by which legal systems maintain themselves and evolve?

Just as biological systems, legal systems have to ensure some degree of continuity while adapting to environmental change. Additionally, key actors in the legal system (judges and enforcers) need to maintain the support of other members of society for the authority they wield. What are key mechanisms by which laws remain sufficiently predictable, relevant and legitimate? At what pace do legal systems evolve? We will seek both empirical and theoretical contributions.

(11.45-12.30): Roundtable on the morning session

Afternoon Session: Law for Complex Systems (13.30-17.30)

 Keynote speaker (13.30-14.00): Scott Page, University of Michigan, USA (to be confirmed)

Title: Maintaining rigor in pluralistic research teams

For the afternoon session we look through a variety of disciplinary lenses at the efficacies of law, in a complex world. Under what conditions can law help adapt political systems to societal changes and thereby maintain political stability? We consider two tracks and invite contributions on (1) the role of law scholarship and on (2) new mechanisms for legal institutions.

Session 1 (14.00-15.00): The role of law scholarship in maintaining political stability in the face of rapid societal changes

For example, the EU is currently facing combined risks from financial instability, terrorism and large population movements. These risks will pull at the Union’s coherence from different directions. Yet, some large polities such as China have (at least on the face of it) maintained legal system stability for centuries in the face of even larger social change. Apparently, laws can be instrumental both for helping peaceful transitions to democratic regimes, as seems to have been the case in South Africa and for the opposite (as Myerson’s mechanism-design analysis of the Weimar disaster suggests). These examples reiterate the urgency of old questions. What are the characteristics of sustainable laws that facilitate peaceful political adaptation to social change and prevent tendencies towards fracture and conflict?

Session 2 (15.15-16.15): What new approaches to law could improve the governance of environmental systems and information/innovation systems?

Under what circumstances do traditional regulatory frameworks – with bright-line rules, narrow solutions and responsibilities – work well ? When do they fail to organize social behavior in such a way as to ensure the robustness of key functions of systems, such as ecosystems or information and innovation systems? Do laws encourage enough experimentation and learning? Are laws flexible enough to match the scale at which behavior is coordinated to the scale at which the problem occurs? Do some laws encourage efficiency at the expense of robustness? In this session, we are interested in analyses of law’s ability to meet the challenges of managing specific complex adaptive systems of policy relevance.

(16.15-17.00): Roundtable on the afternoon session