In a nutshell (and without name-dropping), my contextual approach is based on the basic insights of traditional comparative law, specifically of the functional method, while trying however to evade some of its misunderstandings and pitfalls. I try to actively defend this contextual method against critics who implicitly or explicitly try to delegitimise mainstream comparative law by deploring its lack of “theory”, by insisting on the need to overcome the common-sense approach, and by proposing, as a cure, full adoption of the methodological insights of social sciences. The positive methodological answer which I offer is hermeneutics, which asks us to try and work our way into a foreign legal system, to get a feel for its style, or atmosphere, and by doing so try to understand it in and of itself. This, I propose, is not only what comparative lawyers should aspire to do (despite all the inherent difficulties), but also what, in the end, many of them have aspired to do for many years. In this sense, contextual comparative law is a highly practical project….
So, if your aim is to do comparative law, and to do it well, this is the book for you. If however you already have your mind firmly fixed on theorising along the lines of postmodernism, critical legal studies, law-and-movements, etcetera, you might find the book a very nice example of what you dislike; but still very helpful in understanding your opponents – and, most of all, in your everyday work….
Most of all, however, this book is meant to be practical, something you keep on a shelf close to your desk to consult whenever you feel the need. It not only addresses advanced students who seek an introduction to comparative law or a deeper understanding of certain of its aspects, but at least as much experts and practitioners, for whom it is meant to offer new insights, structures, and opinions. It can be read from the first to the last page, but just as well be used as a manual or reference for specific topics. From the reactions to the German edition, I know that readers take advantage of it in many different ways: the law professor who wants to prepare a course on comparative law, the doctoral student who wants to know how to approach the comparative side of his topic or a certain foreign legal order, the judge who is invited to give a speech in a country he knows little about – in all these situations, and many more, this book is meant to help. But if you want to know my favourite story of how the book is used: it is when readers tell me they have actually read it for fun.
And now, in a bit of shameless self-promotion, an excerpt from Prof. Kischel’s comments about the translation:
A completely different challenge was the translation of the book from German into English. My aspiration was a book that read well – not like a translation, but like an original creation. I was lucky to find an extremely gifted and cooperative translator who shared the same vision – Andrew Hammel – a fully trained American lawyer with substantial legal teaching experience in Germany. The translation turned out to be a constant process of exchange and discussion between Andrew and me on the entire range of questions that a translation entails, a true work of cooperation, but also quite exhausting.
Translating the book was indeed pretty exhausting, but as the old Peace Corps advertising slogan goes, it’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love”. The book was an inexhaustible trove of information and insight, written in a clear, and elegant style (only some of which I was able to convey).