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Culture difference — At the Faculty of Law, students are sent on anthropological fieldwork among 'noble savages' to see the world through new eyes. We followed them.
The time is 07:55 as law student Nanna Fries Sehested parks her bike in front of building 23 at KUA.
She is in enemy territory.
Building 23 is a part of South Campus, which houses the Faculty of Humanities. It is just a stone’s throw away from the Faculty of Law, where Nanna Fries Sehested studies law on her 6th semester. But today, she has been sent out on a mission:
Together with two fellow students, she’ll be doing anthropological fieldwork among language students at the humanities and attend a joint lecture on the theory of literature at the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies.
»When you for three years have only been working in the field of law, you have a very one-sided understanding of science. You have been trained to look at the world in a particular way, and take it for granted that others see the world in the same way. I have therefore sent them out to visit ‘the noble savages’ so they can try to see the world through their eyes,« says Jakob V. H. Holtermann, an associate professor in the philosophy of law at the Faculty of Law.
When you for three years have only been working in the field of law, you have a very one-sided understanding of science.
Jakob V. H. Holtermann, associate professor at the Faculty of Law.
Jakob Holtermann teaches the course ‘Law, morals and politics’, which is about the philosophy of science in law. He says that he hopes that the fieldwork will help the students better step outside themselves, and reflect on their own subject.
»Law students are good at ‘hardcore’ law, but are not used to thinking critically, out of the box, putting their legal knowledge into perspective. And this is something that is required in the labour market. They lack a language in which to speak about what the legal methodology can do, relative to other scientific methods. But this is important to have when they at some point enter the labour market and have to collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines,« says Jakob Holtermann. He adds that all the University of Copenhagen’s students would benefit from going out and being reminded about how different the world looks when you see it through the eyes of other academic disciplines.
But now it is about the 650 students who are doing their 6th semester in law, who go out and observe students from other departments and their lectures on everything from church history, to media analyses, to personality psychology.
Nanna Fries Sehested has agreed to meet up with her two fellow students, Tenna Harpsøe and Agnethe Underbjerg, in the auditorium in building 23 where the lecture takes place.
From home, they have, together with their classmates, prepared a number of observation questions which they are to try and find the answers to: How old are the other students? Which gender and types? What is the physical environment like? What is the scientific terminology? Is the interaction between teacher and students based on authority, or is it critical? And not least: What is the students’ dress code?
»I’m excited to see the other students. I expect that they look a little more alternative than at law, where many of the guys where shirts and suit trousers. Some of them already look like lawyers, but this is perhaps also because some of them have student jobs at law firms. Here it is not done to be wearing jogging bottoms and sweatshirt,« says Nanna Fries Sehested.
I expect that they look a little more alternative than at law, where many of the guys where shirts and suit trousers.
Nanna Fries Sehested, law student
She sees the two others and beckons them up to her on the back row, where they have a good overview of the auditorium.
»Wow, it is a nice lecture hall, they have here. It’s almost like being in a cinema,« says Agnethe and leans back in the seat.
In the lecture programme, it states that the lecture starts at 8:00 am, but the hall is almost empty.
The three young women find out that the quarter-hour academic quarter discrepancy also applies here in the humanities. But they consider that it might also be due to the fact that it is a subject that the student does not have to be examined in:
»When you go online and read about the subject, there are no learning objectives and exam periods, like we are used to seeing at the Faculty of Law. In general, lawyers are probably very structured and place a lot of weight on the exam. This is why we are very concerned with exam requirements,« says Tenna Harpsøe.
It doesn’t last long, however, before the students at the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies start trickling into the auditorium. Most of them with a coffee mug in hand.
Nanna notes that many of them have porcelain coffee mugs instead of cardboard cups. Her hands quickly shift over the keyboard of the laptop and jot down her first observations:
»Most in their 20’s, but one of them with grey hair. Several have hats on – not just caps’.
At 08:19 a middle-aged lecturer steps in and apologises for running late.
»He looks relaxed,« says Agnethe, as the teacher turns on his computer and gets his power point slides ready.
»We are not going to talk about any particular theory today. Instead, we are going to look at what it is we talk about in general, when we talk about ideology criticism and post-colonial theory,« he says and begins his lecture.
Nanna, Tenna and Agnethe exchange a furtive glance and start to take notes diligently, as concepts like ‘negative dialectics’, ‘interpellation’, ‘tautology’ and ‘hegemony’ flow out of the lecturer’s mouth.
At Law, we never talk about money or markets as a discourse or things that are socially or historically determined
Tenna Harpsøe, law student
»It is very abstract. It’s hard to imagine that you can use this for something concrete. At Law, things are much more specific. We learn, for example, about the particular content of a piece of legislation,« says Agnethe.
The lecturer speaks of capitalism, gender and racism as historically and ideologically determined. And he refers to the main works of several theorists, and puts them in the context of fictional literary works and pop cultural tv series.
»How many of you have read Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’?,« he asks the students.
Nanna notes that several of the students in the auditorium put up their hands.
»At law there are usually only a few of the students who have read any of the novels or films that our lecturer Jakob refers to. I often feel as if I am not properly educated,« she says, smiling.
Nanna also notes that the lecturer assumes that the student has a knowledge of history:
»He uses the term ‘we all know’ and ‘of course’ a lot. He says, for example, that the criticism of colonialism is ‘of course’ something we all know, and that it goes without saying that there are different genders and different ways to talk about gender. When he said it, no students responded,« she says.
Tenna nods and adds:
»At Law, we never talk about money or markets as a discourse or something that is socially or historically determined. If there is, for example, the words ‘money’ or ‘payment’ in legislation, we interpret it very literally. We don’t see it as an expression of power or hegemony.«
After about an hour there is a break, and the three Law-women go through their lists of observation questions. They note that several of the students play Tetris and other computer games. Some check their emails or sit talking. On the row in front of them, a student is in the process of doing a translation assignment in French.
»Did you notice how few of them took notes during the lecture? There are also not very many that ask questions or comment on what the lecturer says. In our study programme, we take a lot of notes. I also think that our lecturers ask more questions,« says Tenna Harpsøe.
Here they talk, quite naturally, about gender as something that goes beyond biological gender
Nanna Fries Sehested, law student
At the same time, both she and the other two students find it thought-provoking how big a difference there is between what you take for granted as a law student or as a student on the language courses.
»I really find it fun and interesting, this gender thing. Here they talk, quite naturally, about gender as something that goes beyond biological gender. Like when the lecturer said that there are, of course, more genders than just feminine and masculine, and none of the students reacted. If it was at Law, I think things would have been different,« says Nanna and talks about when they had a sociology exercise at Law, where it was claimed that more genders should be represented in a questionnaire:
»People laughed and snorted. Here, it just seems like the most natural thing in the world,« she says and hastens to mention that she only has her observations from one specific experience and is therefore unable to generalize.
»But it is interesting to see the difference between the reactions,« says Nanna.
They all three agree that it is good to take a more critical view of some of the concepts that they in the law programme take for granted as factual truths.
»We can sometimes get a very fixed idea about how things are. In this way, it is healthy to be at a lecture, where you look more critically at different theories and concepts. All study programmes should have these lectures. It is very educating,« says Agnethe Underbjerg.
She thinks that the way the students are taught at the Faculty of Humanities, is a bit like how she was taught at upper secondary school.
»Here it was also about questioning whether things are really the way they seem. But of course, this is an expansion of this. There is no doubt that the Lix number is very high,« says Agnethe.
In the evening a mail pops into my Inbox. As the reporter from the University Post, I have asked Nanna what her fieldwork has set off in terms of reflections on her own field and the way she thinks and sees the world as a law student.
»I often think that I, in my study programme, I have not approached the things I’ve learned critically, and I think it’s a shame. The lecture has got me thinking about the way we talk about things, and how the words we choose to use can have an impact on society. As lawyers, we often sit and analyse the wording of a statute, but do we really think about the importance of the words apart from their legal significance?« she replies.
The lecture has got me thinking about the way we talk about things, and how the words we choose to use, can have an impact on society.
Nanna Fries Sehested, law student
Nanna Fries Sehested finds it interesting to learn about things that are more abstract than what she is accustomed to in Law:
»We often learn about more specific areas. In this way, law can be a more practical subject. At this lecture, we were faced with some different theorists’ view of the world. One theorist is not necessarily better than the other. This means that there are various options that you can analyse from, and not some fixed formula that we are used to using from many of the courses in Law.«
Nanna Fries Sehested says that the legal method can get you thinking in boxes. And that you therefore risk overlooking some elements that could be important. For example, how people perceive the words that lawyers use.
»I think I am going to think a bit more critically about the things that I see and read in the future.«
Translated by Mike Young