Rethinking the Social Environment in Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Academic Workshop

  • Start: Sep 23, 2022
  • End: Sep 24, 2022
  • Registration: RSVP is required. Please send an email to strafrecht.workshop@csl.mpg.de with your name, affiliation, and email address. Zoom details will be sent to you in due course.
  • Location: Freiburg – via Zoom
  • Host: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law
  • Contact: strafrecht.workshop@csl.mpg.de
 Rethinking the Social Environment in Criminal Law Theory and Doctrine: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
This workshop aims to discuss the potential relevance of averse socio-environmental factors under theories and doctrines of criminal responsibility. For the purposes of the workshop, averse socio-environmental conditions include past and ongoing averse socio-environmental conditions, such as extreme socio-economic deprivation, chronic exposure to violence, physical and psycho­log­­ical abuse, and social isolation.

Admittedly, neither mainstream theories of criminal responsibility nor legal doctrines in most systems account for adverse socio-environ­men­tal factors. Yet, consideration of such factors has fuelled heated debate among criminal law scholars over the years, and this debate is ongoing. Importantly, current discussions also consider growing in­sights from behav­ioral and brain sciences about the ineradicable bond between socio-environmental factors and behav­ioral outcomes. These insights indicate that socio-contextual factors constantly shape brain structure and function and that, as a consequence, they are among the major determinants of psychological states and social conduct.

From a descriptive standpoint, it is not in doubt that the social environment profoundly influences individuals’ behavior in social contexts. However, whether such influences should bear on criminal responsibility, and possibly provide a ground for an excuse, is normatively challenging. (Why) should the criminal law continue to operate through individualis­tic schemes of human behavior, or (why) should the criminal law embrace a broader, and more empirically defensible view of humans as agents who are enmeshed in their own social realities?

In the attempt to respond to these vexed normative questions, the workshop will address the following issues:

  1. (To what extent) should averse socio-environmental conditions receive excusing weight in culpability determina­tions?
  2. Are current culpability doctrines suitable to accommodate socio-environmental factors?
  3. Should the criminal law provide for an explicit socio-environmental excuse doctrine (either total or partial)?
  4. What normative arguments and justifications support, or run against, the provision of a socio-environmental excuse/defense?
  5. How can science contribute to the provision of such an excuse/defense?
  6. How could such an excuse “translate” into a defense in criminal trials (e.g., how could such a defense be formu­lated? What kind of evidence would have to be provided)?
  7. What kind of implications would the inclusion of the “socio-environmental background” in culpability determinations carry for punishment and criminal policy?

Leading scholars from Europe and the United States will discuss and confront their views on these controversial issues under interdisciplinary, theoretical, and doctrinal perspectives. The panels will culminate in a roundtable discussion about the procedural and policy implications of a hypothetical socio-contextual model of criminal law.

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