The method in comparative law: the contextual approach

Available in Russian

Price 100 Rub.

Author: Uwe Kischel

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-2-18-32

Keywords: comparative law; contextual comparative law; functionalism; hermeneutics; methods in comparative law; practice


A quick survey of some current works on comparative law will reveal a discrepancy between comparative law in practice, which is widely dominated by a traditional, functional approach, and certain academic voices on methodology, which deplore the predominant “undertheorized” attitude. Methodological literature not only criticizes many of the details of the traditional approach but is often focused on the presumed lack of theory, which directly leads to demands that comparative law should learn from social science, its techniques, models and methods. And indeed, this seems to be the core concern of the critics: they do not accept the existing methods of traditional comparative law because they consider only the analytical methods used in social sciences to be theoretically satisfying and sufficient. This ideological stance in effect tries to import a long methodological debate between different schools within social sciences into comparative law, and to declare only one of those schools to be valid. Eventually, traditional comparatists and their critics have different ways of thinking: While traditionalists simply and pragmatically search for practical and workable solutions to the questions which happen to interest them, many of their critics take an analytical stance, asking for a method which must then always be followed in detail, and which will ultimately provide answers to larger, preferably critical and often abstract questions. The modern answer to this debate is contextual comparative law. It provides a practical and pragmatic approach to legal comparisons. It is based on traditional functionalism and retains its basic ideas, while at the same time avoiding typically functionalist problems and restrictions. Its methodological basis is hermeneutics, which has the added advantage of clearly describing the typical process used by most experienced comparatists: the slow and diligent familiarization with the foreign legal system and its environment; the search for its atmosphere, its style, and its legal as well as non-legal characteristics; and the underlying desire to develop an intuition which allows the comparatist to avoid the typical traps of their topic, and to better understand the way in which foreign law works within its given context.

About the author: Uwe Kischel – Doctor of Law, LL.M. (Yale), attorney-at-law (New York), Mercator Professor of Public Law, European Law, and Comparative Law at the University of Greifswald, Germany.

Citation: Kischel U. (2020) Metod v sravnitel'nom prave: Kontekstual'nyy podkhod [The method in comparative law: the contextual approach]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.29, no.2, pp.18–32. (In Russian).


Adams M., Griffiths J. (2012) Against “Comparative Method”: Explaining Similarities and Differences. In: Adams M., Bomhoff J. (eds.) Practice and Theory in Comparative Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.279–301.

Adams M., Heirbaut D. (eds.) (2014) The Method and Culture of Comparative Law: Essays in Honour of Mark Van Hoecke, London: Hart Publishing.

Arnaud A.-J. (1998) Some challenges to law through post-modern thought. Rechtstheorie, vol.19, XVI, pp.157–166.

Bogdan M. (2003) Komparativ rattskunskap, 2nd ed., Lund: Norstedts Juridik AB.

Brand O. (2007) Conceptual Comparisons: Towards a Coherent Methodology of Comparative Legal Studies. Brooklyn Journal of International Law, vol.32, no.2, pp.405–466.

Brugger W. (2001) Der moderne Verfassungsstaat aus Sicht der amerikanischen Verfassung und des Grundgesetzes. Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts, vol.126, no.3, pp.337–402.

Brunner G. (2004) Grundrechtstheorie im Marxismus-Leninismus. In: Merten D., Papier H.-J. (eds.) Handbuch der Grundrechte. Bd.I, Heidelberg: C.F.Müller, pp.523–562.

Chodosh H.E. (1999) Comparing Comparisons: In Search of Methodology. Iowa Law Review, vol.84, no.5, pp.1025–1038.

Constantinesco L.-J. (1972) Rechtsvergleichung. Bd.II: Die rechtsvergleichende Methode, Köln: Carl Heymanns Verlag.

Constantinesco L.-J. (1983) Rechtsvergleichung. Bd.III: Die rechtsvergleichende Wissenschaft, Köln: Carl Heymann Verlag.

Cuniberti G. (2011) Grands systèmes de droit contemporains, 2nd ed., Paris: L.G.D.J.

Dahrendorf R. (1986) Pfade aus Utopia: Zur Theorie und Methode der Soziologie, 4th ed., München: Piper Verlag.

De Cruz P. (2007) Comparative Law in a Changing World, 3rd ed., London: Routledge.

Demleitner N.V. (1999) Combating legal ethnocentrism: Comparative law sets boundaries. Arizona State Law Journal, vol.31, no.3, pp.737–762.

Drobnig U. (1953) Rechtsvergleichung und Rechtssoziologie. Rabels Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht (RabelsZ), vol.18, pp.295–309.

Esser V.J. (1972) Vorverständnis und Methodenwahl in der Rechtsfindung, 2nd ed., Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.

Frankenberg G. (1985) Critical comparisons: Re-thinking comparative law. Harvard International Law Journal, vol.26, no.2, pp.411–455.

Gerber D.J. (1998) System dynamics: Toward a language of comparative law? American Journal of Comparative Law, vol.46, no.4, pp.719–737.

Grosswald Curran V. (1998) Cultural immersion, difference and categories in U.S. comparative law. American Journal of Comparative Law, vol.46, no.1, pp.43–92.

Grosswald Curran V. (1998) Dealing in Difference: Comparative Law’s potential for broadening legal perspectives. American Journal of Comparative Law, vol.46, no.4, pp.657–668.

Hallaq W.B. (1984) Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed? International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol.16, no.1, pp.3–41.

Hirschl R. (2014) Comparative Matters, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Husa V.J. (2003) Farewell to functionalism or methodological tolerance? Rabels Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht (RabelsZ), vol.67, no.3, pp.419–447.

Jansen N. (2006) Comparative law and comparative knowledge. In: Reimann M., Zimmermann R. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.305–338.

Kischel U. (2013) Der menschliche Faktor – Der Mythos der Jury im common law. In: Hanschel D., Kielmansegg S., Kischel U., Koenig C., Lorz R.A. Mensch und Recht: Festschrift für Eibe Riedel zum 70. Geburtstag, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot GmbH, pp.631–644.

Kischel U. (2015) Après la transition – La situation juridique actuelle de l’Europe de l’Est. Revue internationale de droit compare, vol.67, no.1, p.145–166.

Kischel U. (2015) Rechtsvergleichung, München: C.H.BECK.

Kommers D.P. (1998) Kann das deutsche Verfassungsrechtsdenken Vorbild für die Vereinigten Staaten sein? Der Staat, vol.37, no.3, pp.335–347.

Kötz H. (1998) Abschied von der Rechtskreislehre? Zeitschrift für Europäisches Privatrecht (ZEuP), vol.6, no.3, pp.493–505.

Legrand P. (1997) The Impossibility of “Legal Transplants”. Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law, vol.4, no.2, pp.111–124.

Legrand P. (2001) The return of the repressed: Moving comparative legal studies beyond pleasure. Tulane Law Review, vol.75, no.4, pp.1033–1052.

Legrand P. (2002) Alterity: About Rules, For Example. In: Birks P., Pretto A. (eds.) Themes in Comparative Law: In Honour of Bernard Rudden, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.21–34.

Markesinis B.S. (2003) Comparative law in the courtroom and classroom, Oxford: Hart Publishing.

McDougal M.S. (1980) The comparative study of law for policy purposes: Value clarification as an instrument of democratic world order. In: Butler W.E. (ed.) International Law in Comparative Perspective, Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands: Sijthoff & Noordhoff, pp.191–226.

Menski W. (2003) Hindu Law: Beyond Tradition and Modernity, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Michaels R. The functional method of comparative law. In: Reimann M., Zimmermann R. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp.339–382.

Nussberger A. (1998) Die Frage nach dem tertium comparationis: Zu den Schwierigkeiten einer rechtsvergleichenden Analyse des russischen Rechts. Recht in Ost und West, vol.42, no.3, pp.81–88.

Piek S. (2013) Die Kritik an der funktionalen Rechtsvergleichung. Zeitschrift für Europäisches Privatrecht (ZEuP), vol.21, no.1, pp.60–86.

Popper K.R. (1995) Against big words. In: Popper K.R. In Search of a Better World: Lectures and Essays form Thirty Years, London: Routledge, pp.82–98.

Reimann M. (2002) The progress and failure of comparative law in the second half of the twentieth century. American Journal of Comparative Law, vol.50, no.4, pp.671–700.

Riles A. (1999) Wigmore’s treasure box: Comparative law in the era of information. Harvard International Law Journal, vol.40, no.1, pp.221–284.

Rürup R. (1977) Zur Einführung. In: Rürup R. (ed.) Historische Sozialwissenschaft, Göttingen: Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp.5–15.

Sacco R. (1991) Legal formants: A dynamic approach to comparative law. American Journal of Comparative Law, vol.39, no.1–2, pp.1–34, 343–401.

Samuel G. (2014) An Introduction to Comparative Law Theory and Method, Oxford: Hart Publishing.

Schacht J. (1964) An Introduction to Islamic Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seiffert H. (2006) Einführung in die Wissenschaftstheorie. Bd.II, 11th ed., München: C.H.Beck.

Siems M. (2014) Comparative Law, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Singer J.W. (1988) Legal realism now. California Law Review, vol.76, no.2, pp.465–542.

Sommermann K.-P. (2004) Funktionen und Methoden der Grundrechtsvergleichung. In: Merten D., Papier H.-J. (eds.) Handbuch der Grundrechte. Bd.I, Heidelberg: C.F.Müller, pp.631–678.

Tschentscher A. (2007) Dialektische Rechtsvergleichung: Zur Methode der Komparistik im öffentlichen Recht. Juristenzeitung, vol.62, no.17, pp.807–816.

Whitman J.Q. (2004) The two Western Cultures of Privacy: Dignity versus Liberty. Yale Law Journal, vol.113, no.6, pp.1151–1221.

Zweigert K., Kötz H. (1996) Einführung in die Rechtsvergleichung, 3rd ed., Tübingen: Mohr.