Scholarly Agenda 2.0

I recently applied for something which required an up to 500-word statement summarizing past, present and future scholarship. The trouble is, I HATE writing self-assessments. I had to write one for my tenure file years ago and found it excruciating — and it took me over a week. This time it was a little easier — if only because I only had 24 hours to do it before the deadline.

Here’s what I wrote. I think it’s true, although there’s a lot more I would have said if I’d had more words to play with:

I started teaching expecting to be a somewhat traditional scholar of US administrative law. Although I still teach the course with great pleasure, and occasionally write in the core of that subject, my interests soon grew to include the rapidly developing issues created by advances in computer technology and especially the Internet. Today, while still at heart a public lawyer, I find myself to be one with a particular interest in governance problems concerning information, and information systems. These complementary interests underlie the majority of my work to date, and are themes in my current and future projects.

Much of my recent work has concerned governance issues raised by information technology. This includes governance of the Internet by its users, self-governance by means of new technology, governance of online activities (including e-commerce) by the operation of private law, and especially regulatory initiatives by public bodies, both national and trans-national, that seek a role in either Internet regulation (e.g. the domain name system, which is the Internet’s plumbing) or seek to regulate the things that people do online. My background in administrative law has proved surprisingly useful for this, as it gives one a grounding in standards of fairness and regularity against which to measure these new and ever-evolving regulatory processes. It has also made me conscious of the need for equivalent rules and norms (and avenues for individual redress) to constrain and govern new trans-national rulemaking processes, particularly those designed as public/private hybrids.

The regulation of information technology is perhaps just a special case of the regulation of information. I continue to write about privacy, particularly the ways in which new technologies may threaten or enhance both the individual’s and the state’s control of information. Thus, current projects include work on privacy in public places, and a forthcoming project in which I hope to set out an optimal set of rules for as privacy-friendly an ID card system as one could hope for in the United States. Ideally, the next stage in this project would be to broaden it to include a comparative dimension.

The ways in which we use information and information technologies also have implications for the smooth functioning, and perhaps even the nature, of self-government, both on the small-scale of affinity groups, clubs and on the larger scales of individual participation in national and even trans-national lawmaking. NGOs are using the Internet to organize their participation in matters ranging from UN sponsored conferences to trade negotiations. Localities are experimenting with a range of devices that allow citizens more direct participation in what were formerly bureaucratic and administrative decision-making. These are, potentially, tools for a new type of self-governance, and as they mature they may require not just amendments to our ideas of how administrative law works, but to more fundamental concepts about how we organize democracy. I intend to take part in those debates, both as a participant, and as a scholar.

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