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“We want a European dialogue”

Christoph Möllers is a recipient of the Leibniz Prize 2016

Christoph Möllers

Figure: Matthias Heyde

Christoph Möllers, Professor of Public Law and Legal Philosophy and a recipient of the 2016 Leibniz Prize, talks about the Verfassungsblog (Constitutional Blog), the first ever blog on issues of constitutional law.

Professor Möllers, from 2013 to 2015 you were funded by the “Creating Opportunities” funding line. This supports HU scholars in research projects in the humanities or in the discussion of previously unexamined topics. During this time you were involved in, which had been founded in 2009. How did this collaboration come about?

The blog was developed by the legal scholar and journalist Maximilian Steinbeis as an innovative format intended to fill the gap between scholarly publications and newspaper reports: faster than the former, more academic than the later. To begin with this was a one-man project, which attracted a lot of attention. I happened to meet Steinbeis at “Recht im Kontext”, a programme at the Wissenschaftskolleg. We decided to make the blog more academic and more international.

Was the focus on academic work, or on communicating the results of this work?

We’re not sure whether those things can be separated. What’s important is that this is a new form of communication, which doesn’t come from academia and can’t replace certain forms of scholarship. At the same time, it can be an independent form of scholarship.

What effect does the medium have on the academic work process?

The time frames become shorter. That’s a good thing, because it means you can react to problems, but a bad thing because you need time for reflection.

Could this be the future of academia?

It’s already here, it’s the present. This was the first blog in this field, now there are several more.

But if this is already the present, why are scholars expected to use opportunities created by funding to produce monographs?

Well, we can’t offer that. We’re not going to produce a monograph. (laughs) We did have the opportunity to try out other formats with the blog, such as web-supported conferences, and that will lead to a book, an edited volume.

You describe the blog’s approach as interdisciplinary, transnational, subjective and open to risks.

For me, the most important thing was to create a genuinely European context for dialogue about issues of constitutional law. We’re able to quickly obtain high-quality articles from Polish colleagues about the current crisis in Poland, and the same goes for Hungary, but also for developments that no one else notices. The aim is to present opinions, make well-founded judgements, and not just to write a chronicle of current events. So far, over 450 authors have been involved.

How does one actually become an author?

Steinbeis puts his feelers out on the internet and sends enquiries to authors; at the same time others approach us, especially early career academics who want to cite us as a publication. We also collaborate with other blogs, exchanging articles and authors. Economically, we’re not in competition with each other.

How can a project like this ultimately be evaluated? Or does its success actually lie in the dialogue, the networking, and the stimulus it gives for more in-depth research?

Yes, I would actually argue that that’s the case. After two years, the blog now looks more scholarly, and it’s closely watched not just by academics, but also by ministries and law firms. I find that quite astonishing.

Where does your interest in the subject of constitutional law come from?

Basically, constitutional law is the combination of law and politics. I’m interested in this formalization of politics and in the politicization of law. It’s a phenomenon that gained importance globally after the Second World War, in a way one wouldn’t have expected, and that reflects many current problems, even if it doesn’t always solve them.

In December it was announced that you were to receive a research award in the DFG’s Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme for 2016. You’re being honoured for your “outstanding work on Public Law, specifically on constitutional law” – and for your broad interdisciplinary approach. What does this award mean to you?

Oh, I’m very pleased! I have colleagues who received this prize twenty years ago and are still happy about it. I hope I’ll be the same. It’s just nice to get recognition.

You’re now entitled to up to 2.5 million euros, which you can use for project-related purposes within the next seven years. Do you already know which projects you want to support?

In the summer semester I’m taking parental leave and I’ll think about it then. There’s a lot of untapped potential in the area of comparative constitutional and legal theory. You have to be very careful not to build up too much structure, though, because you still want to be free to do your own work.

The interview was conducted by Michael Thiele. It first appeared in HUMBOLDT Februar 2016.

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