News & Events

Interview with Prof. Victor Ramraj | University of Victoria (Faculty of Law), British Columbia

November 16, 2022

Dr. Victor V. Ramraj, Professor, University of Victoria (Faculty of Law), British Columbia visited the NLSIU campus recently to deliver a faculty seminar on “Collaborating in times of crisis: Challenges and strategies for international research.”

This seminar provided an overview of the state of international and interdisciplinary research collaboration. It highlighted some of the challenges for legal researchers and institutions arising from recent changes in legal academia, legal publishing, and the geopolitical environment. Dr. Ramraj stated that most of these challenges fall under the three clusters of (a) Personal & Professional Challenges, (b)  Institutional or Academic Culture, and (c) External / Practical Constraints.

Dr. Ramraj also reflected on these challenges based on his own research projects, including his interdisciplinary edited collection, Covid-19 in Asia: Law and Policy Contexts (New York: Oxford University Press), his research on constraints on academic freedom in Asia, and his engagements with senior university administrators on national security guidelines for scientific research in Canada.

We spoke to Dr. Ramraj and asked him to elaborate further on the key themes of his seminar. Here’s what he had to say:

On the types of challenges faced by legal scholars/academics:

a. Personal & Professional Challenges

Some of the personal and professional obstacles that might prevent legal scholars from engaging in collaborative, interdisciplinary research on global problems include a lack of opportunity or exposure to other legal systems and traditions, the lack of formal training in other disciplines, career pressures (particularly on early career scholars), the challenge of balancing teaching and research commitments, personal obligations, including family obligations, and perhaps, a general sense of trepidation. At least some of these obstacles might be addressed through various forms of institutional support and mentorship, and opportunities for continuing professional education and training.

b. Institutional or Academic Culture

Even scholars who are willing to engage in collaborative international and interdisciplinary research might find other challenges in the broader institutional and academic culture, including the perennial challenge law schools face as both professional training institutions and centres for research. For example, law schools are often seen as and sometimes cultivate an image as being separate from other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. The legal academic culture often displays a bias in favour of single-author works. And methodologically, the tendency in many disciplines, including law, to methodological nationalism (which sees the nation-state as the starting point for intellectual inquiry), can be difficult to overcome. The first step in addressing these constraints, I would suggest, is being conscious of them at the personal and institutional levels.

c. External / Practical Constraints

A third set of obstacles I see as external to the academy. Among them, practical resources constraints, the obstacles to travel imposed by the pandemic, the need to be mindful of our carbon footprint, as well as geopolitical tensions that discourage international collaboration stand out. But, as we learned while working on the Covid-19 in Asia book, international collaboration is possible even in the midst of the pandemic, and technology can be used effectively to address at least some of these constraints. In some respects, the biggest challenge might be the inward turn in many societies. The university is a cosmopolitan institution, but that vision is increasingly under pressure. It is a vision that I feel professionally compelled to defend.

On the role of Academics while dealing with crises: 

As academics, we have a role to play while dealing with crises – on problems that we can and should address. Although, as someone trained in philosophy, I appreciate the importance of theory, it’s also important for us, as academics, to be aware of the impact we can have on public issues and policy. It is, of course, important to be rigorous and fair-minded in our work. However, when it comes to some of the existential crises we’ve been discussing, an all-hands-on-deck response is needed and we have a duty to play our part.

On his visit to NLSIU

I had come to NLSIU several years ago for a project and had stayed in the very same building where I delivered the faculty seminar. Even though the place in and around the University looks different from how I remember it, this visit brought about a huge sense of nostalgia for me, and am very happy to be here.

About the speaker

Professor Ramraj joined the University of Victoria as Professor of Law and CAPI Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations in 2014, after sixteen years at the National University of Singapore, where he twice served as the Faculty’s Vice-Dean for Academic Affairs. He holds five degrees from McGill University (B.A.), the University of Toronto (M.A., LL.B. & Ph.D.), and Queen’s University Belfast (LL.M.). He has edited/co-edited several books published by Cambridge University Press, including Emergencies and the Limits of Legality (2009) and Emergency Powers in Asia: Exploring the Limits of Legality (2010). His research interests include comparative constitutional and administrative law, transnational regulation, emergency powers, and the history of and regulatory challenges arising from state-company relationships in Asia.