Lawyer or political scientist, that is the question

For a long time, I looked for the right definition for myself. I spent my university years self-identifying as an atypical political science student who was particularly fond of law subjects

As such, I wrote my BA thesis in International Law and my MA thesis in Comparative Constitutionalism, and I felt pretty good and yet pretty uncomfortable in my “atypicalness”. I often joke with my friends saying that I felt borderline.

Things began to worsen when I decided to apply for a PhD in Law and not in Political Science, as it would have been natural to do and as everyone expected from me. But here’s the thing: the only person who let me dream was my beloved Master thesis’ Supervisor, who once told me that “there is not only Political Science, if you want”. So I told myself, why not. Not so easy as it sounds, at least not in Italy, where Law and Political Science are considered rigidly separated disciplinesnot to be mixed

When the PhD of my dreams turned me down and the only one who called my for an interview was for a Political Science position, I started doubting myself. Then, I remembered that the last time I was struggling with a pseudo Hamlet’s dilemma (“Lawyer or political scientist? That is the question”), I found comfort in the words of Martin Shapiro.

Most of those who acknowledge their own membership in the law and politics movement are political scientists who claim that their knowledge of law informs and improves their practice of the discipline of political science.

Martin Shapiro in “Law and Politics: the problem of boundaries” (The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics)

And so it hit me: that is who I am. So, people like me exist! And they are political scientists, not lawyers.

Shapiro was talking specifically of those who studied judicial behaviour, but I could immediately relate to another scholar I studied for my MA thesis and who wrote another little piece of myself, Sujit Choudhry.

[…] comparative constitutional law must expand its intellectual agenda to encompass issues that have hitherto been the exclusive domain of comparative politics in order to be of relevance to the most pressing problems of modern constitutionalism. In other words, there is a need to bridge comparative politics and comparative constitutional law through a genuinely interdisciplinary conversation.

Sujit Choudhry in “Bridging comparative politics and comparative constitutional law: constitutional design in divided societies” (Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration or Accommodation?)

These words are the main reason why I decided to apply for a PhD in Law in the first place. I wanted to bridge law and politics in my research, as a sort of mission. I made that choice to prove to myself and to everyone else that it was something not only possible, but most importantly absolutely necessary to have a more comprehensive understanding of reality. I put all the enthusiasm and passion I had in a research proposal that made me realise how much I love my “borderline backyard” and that I intended to realise, one way or another.

But then rejections started to come, and I started thinking that maybe I was living in a very nice bubble, where I could study and act as everything was fine, where I could aspire to positions as I actually could be successful. At the first big rejection, the bubble broke and I was in the need to find a credible alternative, something that could give me that pure joy and satisfaction even without a “Law” label on my CV.

When all the rage mixed with total confusion passed – “Why do I feel the need to have a PhD in Law to dignify my scientific work?” -, I realised that I felt that need because of the Italian-style education I received, where political scientists are seen as having something “less” than lawyers, and where being a lawyer is (and remains) a status that makes you more credible, someone worth listening. But it is not necessarily true, at least in the real world.

I also realised another thing. If I identify myself as a “member of the law and politics movement” (Shapiro) who wants to “bridge comparative constitutional law and comparative politics” (Choudhry), I am coherently focusing on the right subject, since constitutional design for divided societies requires both law and political science, as well as comparative federalism. And if most of them “like me” are political scientists, so be it. I will find my own way to prove that my work is worthy even if I am not a legal scholar.

Yet again, there was something missing: boundaries. But boundaries are difficult to identify when it comes to knowledge, and the most idealistic part of my brain still believes that it is quite useless to impose rigid boundaries, especially when the absence of them could only enrich your research and your thought.

So, who am I? A wanna-be researcher, who keeps studying and learning about law and politics, bridging them in her work, not worrying about boundaries and labels, waiting for the right PhD to realise her passion.

[EDIT: Eventually, I got accepted by a PhD in Law and I was rejected for the position in Political Science. The funny thing is that among the motivation of the rejection there was the “too legal” character of my research proposal. What an interesting life awaits!]