Cultural Diversity in Private Law

The group’s leader, Mareike Schmidt, has been working on questions of cultural diversity in private law for several years. Her current personal and group projects sharpen this focus.

1. The Role of Culture in Core Areas of German Private Law

  • Duration: 20192024
  • Partially funded by a fellowship from the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”, Bonn (10/2021–03/2022)

This project explores cultural and religious diversity in a field of law in which it is almost entirely unexplored thus far, i.e., in the law of contracts, torts, property and other commercially oriented fields of the German Civil Code. In order to assess the practical relevance of questions of cultural and religious diversity in these fields, the heart of this project involves mapping the occurrence and handling of such aspects in court practice. To achieve this, Schmidt combines content analysis (a social science method) with foundational and doctrinal approaches to law, thereby also enriching the scope of traditional legal research methods.

2. CUREDI  Cultural and Religious Diversity under State Law across Europe

Since 2020, Mareike Schmidt has been a partner in the CUREDI project, contributing commentaries on German court decisions regarding the law of obligations and property law. She is also a member of the project’s Editorial Board and Coordination Team.

3. Contract Law’s Cultural Embeddedness

  • Duration: 2024–2028

Exploring contract law’s cultural embeddedness forms one of the research group’s key projects. This project aims to contribute to the improvement of legal doctrine and practice regarding the application of contract law in culturally diverse societies. It starts from the assumption that the discussion about handling cultural diversity in the application of contract law should not just revolve around reasonable accommodation of ‘the other’, for instance, by granting exceptions from the usual rules to persons ‘from other cultures’. Rather, the search for a just and inclusive application of contract law must go one step further. We seek both to understand from a theoretical perspective how contract law’s application is embedded in culture and to empirically investigate how legal professionals deal with this cultural embeddedness in contract law disputes. On this basis, we will then examine the potential and the limits for the inclusion of cultural diversity or – in other words – to sound out the options for a culturally sensitive application of contract law.

The project is situated at the intersection of doctrinal contract law, legal theory, and empirical legal research. In the theoretical part, we intend to merge two important discussions: (1) the discourse on law as culture, along with other theoretical and doctrinal perspectives that can help in ascertaining the cultural embeddedness of contract law’s application; and (2) the search for reasonable accommodation of cultural diversity in contract law. In the empirical part of the project, we seek to investigate how legal professionals deal with contract law’s cultural embeddedness in their practice. This shall be done by way of analysis of court case files as well as interviews with legal professionals, i.e., judges and attorneys.

The project’s results are expected to provide a basis for the development of legal doctrine and methods of adjudication suitable for culturally diverse societies, with a particular view to enabling a more reflective practice with regard to law’s and legal professionals’ own positionality. In a broader context, the project thus addresses fundamental questions of integration and equal chances of participation in culturally diverse societies.

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