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Opportunities and risks with metaphorical borrowings from other disciplines

The undeveloped field of law department management, a field without theory, short of empirical data, unresearched and rarely even openly disputed, needs all the insights it can get. Some flashes can come from concepts and insights kidnapped from other disciplines.

Many disciplines have contributed to this blog, notably economics and psychology, but also statistics, sociology, and philosophy and others (See my post of Aug. 20, 2006: evolution; Aug. 20, 2006: psychology of foxes and hedgehogs; April 9, 2008: genetics and DNA; June 25 2008: evolutionary economics; Aug. 4, 2009 #2: borrowings from physics; and Oct. 28, 2009: paleontology and punctuated equilibrium.). Whether those borrowings do justice to the source or illuminate how legal departments operate and how they might improve concerns me.

For that reason, Stephen H. Kellert, Borrowed Knowledge: Chaos Theory and the Challenge of Learning Across Disciplines (Univ. Chic. 2008) is a tonic. Kellert, a professor of philosophy, offers much learning about the attempted application of ideas from the sciences – specifically so-called “chaos theory — into the humanities. The opportunities lie in the inventiveness of borrowing: a concept such as strange attractors from nonlinear dynamics that might help us structure or explain something about law departments. The risks include erroneous application, misleading rhetoric, and unrealistic translations. It is an exciting effort, but needs caution.

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