“Q&A with…” is a section of the Chilean Blog of Comparative Law in which María Ithurria, President of the Chilean Network of Comparative Law, talks with leading comparatists around the world so that we can know a little more about their experience, their views, and their work. We hope you enjoy it!
Yseult Marique is a Professor at the University of Essex. Her research is strongly anchored in comparative public law, with a keen interest in history, ethics, and political philosophy. She develops three main research areas: 1) the practical implementation of rule of law and good administration; 2) administrative enforcement and ethics of care in Western societies in the past, today and in the future; and, 3) administrative normativity (in the sense of the norms, rules and practices that direct, shape, facilitate or limit public decision-making either by way of reasoning process, constraint, or social construct).
Professor Marique read law at the Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis (FUSL, bilingual undergraduate programme with the KUB), the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB). She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge (2011). An associate member of the International Academy of Comparative law, she was awarded a British Academy Rising Star Grant (2016-2017) and has been a research fellow at the University of Speyer (Germany, 2016-2023), a research associate at the Centre de droit Public (Belgium, ULB, 2009-) and a member of the Centre Montesquieu d’études de l’action publique (Belgium, UC Louvain, 2022-). She has been editing the blog of the British Association of Comparative Law since 2016 and that of REALaw since 2021.
Marique, Y., (2023). Administrative Courts. In: Encyclopedia of Comparative Law. Editors: Smith, J., Husa, J., Valcke, C., and Narsico, M. Edward Elgar.
Marique, Y., (2022). Public and Private Sovereign Powers in Liberal Models of Property Protection - Belgium, Sweden, and The Netherlands. In: Procedural Requirements for Administrative Limits to Property Rights. Editors: Perroud, T. and Conticelli, M., Oxford University Press, 276-286.
Marique, Y., (2022). Le principe de légalité en droit administratif anglais - Un concept « flou » face aux transformations de l’action administrative. Revue Française de Droit Administratif. 2022 (2), 241-246.
Marique, Yseult and Slautsky, Emmanuel (2021) Resistance to Transplants in the European Administrative Space An Open-Ended Reading of Legal Changes. Review of European Administrative Law, 14 (1). pp. 7-36.
1. How did you become interested in comparative law?
My interest in differences in legal systems sprung for taking the same course in Public Law twice due to a fortuitous and ad hoc curriculum I followed during my legal education. The literally identical provisions in Belgian law were explained by the two Professors, the first one in a Dutch-speaking university, and the second in a French-speaking university, with totally different narratives around their genesis, their meaning, and their working in practice. This struck me as possibly being the source of a different understanding of the legal systems due to different training and thinking about the law, and more broadly being the source for different expectations about the law. I wondered what I could do about this, maybe hoping that I could try to bring the two legal communities to know about these diverging explanations and be a vector of communication between them. This may explain why I felt that a different language and an altogether more external perspective on my own legal systems would be needed, to find bridges and channels of communication between them from outside. This may also explain why I find studying differences and differentiation in comparative law so much more fascinating than similarities and convergence.
2. How did you grow into being a comparatist?
Over the last twenty years or so, I have been very privileged to meet and work with a good number of outstanding comparative public lawyers, either for a number of years working on various projects together or more punctually for one or other single conference or meeting. Each encounter brings its own gift – from Professor Poirier I learned to ask : “why is it so?”, from Professor Lauvaux, to indulge in a wealth of minute details to explore single events, from Professor Bell to take a step back from hyper-technicalities and hyper-mundanities, from Professor Giliker the importance of a clear message, from Professor Stelkens the pride of being systematically meticulous, from Professor Auby the power of classification and taxonomies, from Professor della Cananea the sheer joy of looking for good test cases, from Professor Sommermann the generosity of patience, from Professor Cane the freedom to ask normative questions, from Professor Eliantonio the price of efficient delivery…. And so on and so on; all things that at some point or another [or at many points for the matter] they surely found it hopeless to keep nudging me to do. What I mean is that we grow into the comparatist we become thanks to multiple encounters, questions, and discussions that shape our artistic skills in seeing the world from different perspectives and in painting these legal and non-legal worlds with our own colour palette.
3. What are your three favourite books on comparative law? Why?
Comparative law provides a little opening into ways of thinking, reasoning, telling a story, and making arguments to win cases, to change the law and/or practices. So, in that respect, non-comparative law books offering templates about these processes from a “tertium comparationis” position are extremely important to try and test ideas, perspectives, and lines of argument. I am an eclectic and fragmented person who tends to go back to some chapters in some books often but does not necessarily find the need to engage with the whole work. In that respect, the first chapter of John Bell’s French Legal Cultures (Butterworths 2001) has often been opened as it provides a nice template about legal processes. The introduction to the first volume of European Legal Development – The Case of Tort edited by Bell and Ibbetson (CUP 2014) has been the source of very interesting discussions with Essex colleagues where our exchanges have highlighted our different understandings of the same chapter due to our different backgrounds as comparative lawyers. The book edited by Van Hoecke and Adams on Comparative Methods in Law, Humanities, and Social Sciences (Edward Elgar 2021) has also often been opened, maybe thanks to attending one of the lively meetings at the start of that project, and thanks to a discussion with Professor van Hoecke during a doctoral workshop where he presented some of the key ideas of his book, such as the importance of research design, beyond a research question. These three examples may seem narrow, but what I like most about these books are their authors, the ways in which they reach towards other colleagues with candour, searching for their own ways, always suggesting, probing, and testing, without being peremptory or dogmatic. In that way, one can engage with their toolkit, making it one’s own without feeling guilty about not understanding them properly. They trust their reader, and so she trusts them.
4. Should comparative law have a more prominent role in the university’s curriculum?
In a world where people, goods, services, and capital move around all the time, a good lawyer needs to have a sense of other legal systems, and how different legal systems “communicate” with each other if and when problems arise. This may sound more like a conflict of law than comparative law, but in a world where so many aspects of our lives are shaped by international agreements of various natures [on human rights, trade, investment, environment, labour protection etc], one navigates in an in-between world, not only a conflict of national law, nor only coordination between international and national law. A good lawyer also needs to understand how different legal systems will implement these international agreements to advise clients about the gaps, overlaps, uncertainty, and margins of interpretation. Comparative law is then a tool to ask relevant questions. For these reasons, comparative law should surely be more widely offered in the law curriculum.
5. In your opinion, what are the key challenges of comparative law nowadays?
The advent of new technologies, such as automatic translation tools or other computing techniques, brings endless opportunities to get a peek into a larger number of legal systems, and be able to spot patterns that would otherwise escape our attention or curiosity. This is extremely positive: it would be great to see more diverse scholarship embracing these opportunities. At the same time, most coins are two-sided. What is gained in terms of breath needs to be carefully balanced in terms of depth and interpretative nuances. Not every scholar has access to basic legal resources due to their locations or the finances of their university. Not every scholar can spare the time to master more than one or two quantitative and/or qualitative empirical methods if they can master one at all. Not every scholar masters a language other than her mother tongue. How far do we relate comparative law research to language, culture, and communicative skills? What is the place in comparative law in relation to what we (Radosveta Vassileva and I) call the “forgotten” legal systems or the “non leading jurisdictions” in our blog series on Interwar Dialogue? These systems very often exhibit fascinating features that are overlooked by more mainstream voices. Comparative law needs to find a narrative where it brings all these different perspectives into a coherent agenda, with space for epistemic communities with very different expectations from comparative law – some instrumental, some functionalist, some interdisciplinary, some decolonial, some socio-legal etc. Comparative lawyers need to demonstrate that they can embrace pluralism constructively. While comparative law has long been an expression of domination, it can also be a powerful tool for subversion and questioning the status quo in thinking and believing. Instead of imposing one’s system and one’s mental glasses onto another system, one can definitively borrow the questions asked by a foreign system and learn from them or from the questions they trigger in us. This is a challenge one would hope comparative lawyers would be keen on taking up.
6. Looking ahead, how do you think the discipline will develop?
Predicting the future is a risky business, with a good number of variables to be accounted for, such as language knowledge among lawyers, computer skills, the ability to relate to other fields of knowledge etc. What I would hope the discipline contributes to in future lawyers is a curiosity as to why things are as they are, how they could be different, and what could be done to do so. To deliver on this, comparative lawyers need all the tools that are available in terms of methods, designs, and collaboration with other legal disciplines and non-legal disciplines. What matters is the process, not the exact place of comparative epistemologies in the overall picture.
7. Finally, is there any advice you would like to share with early-career researchers aspiring to become comparatists?
It is always tricky to provide advice in abstracto. If I were to give some advice to my younger self, I would say: “stay focused on what gives you joy and what you are passionate about, and embrace opportunities that come your way, knowing why you do so”.
* Cover image via https://www.essex.ac.uk/people/mariq54706/yseult-marique