Capturing Debate Dynamics: Complexity Theory and Emergent Learning in Legal Education

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The present article’s aim is to show that complexity theory provides us with an indispensable theoretical framework to articulate valuable teaching practices and explain how we can bring student cohorts to interact with each other and understand deep problems. The article will, firstly, highlight the epistemological assumption of modern legal education, i.e., the recitation model. I will then provide a brief outline of the theoretical and methodological
underpinnings of complexity theory and present an approach in which complexity theory can be employed to inform valuable methods in legal education. Secondly, I will argue that complexity theory captures important aspects of what is experientially familiar but not explicitly known to teachers: knowledge and understanding are emergent properties. This insight will allow us to treat classrooms as informational networks, i.e., as complex adaptive systems. Finally, I will provide two practical examples for bottom-up teaching. I will show how year after year small cohorts of students through interaction and discussion on the topics of punishment-behaviour and legal discretion respectively, manage to reconstruct theoretically sophisticated academic discussions to their full extent.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Complexity in Education
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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