As I was pondering possible future writing projects over the past few days, I began thinking about the different ways to approach interdisciplinary scholarship. A greater number of scholars in recent years seem to let methodology drive the research question. For instance, a researcher might use a particular type of game theory to explain behavior in a broad swath of substantive legal areas. That scholar might become an expert at game theory, but may have no special expertise in any particular subject matter such as torts or criminal law. An advantage of such an approach is that the scholar becomes very familiar with a particular set of methodological tools that may permit a fresh look in a variety of substantive legal areas. On the other hand, a disadvantage of such an approach may be that, without special expertise in the subject matter of the project, a scholar may have more difficulty putting his or her findings in context or may not be familiar with the exceptional attributes of the subject matter being studied.
My preferred approach to scholarship is to allow the research question to drive the methodology. Rather than repeatedly employing a particular methodology in a wide variety of subject areas, I look for questions that I personally find fascinating and to which I do not know the answer. Although most of my work is empirical, such an approach requires me to venture outside of my comfort zone for some of my writing projects, including the legal history project that I discussed over the weekend with respect to the life and jurisprudence of Pierce Butler. One advantage to this approach is that, unlike methodologically-driven research, I find that it is easier to gain a broad perspective and expertise about a particular legal subject matter or legal institution. For me, all of my research questions center around the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court, and I by no means consider myself a methodologist. An obvious disadvantage is that scholarship driven by a research question often requires scholars to use methodological tools that they have not employed previously. It therefore often takes greater time, patience, and care to allow the research question to drive the methodology. (The exception, of course, would be strictly doctrinal scholarship, in which the research question still drives the project but there is no need to learn or employ new methodological tools because law school, practice, and/or a clerkship provide ample training for such scholarship.)
I do not think that one approach is better than the other, and it may be that most scholars employ a hybrid of the two approaches when approaching their scholarly pursuits. I wonder which of the two approaches is more risky though, especially for untenured professors? Which approach is more common in the legal scholarly community? Are there other approaches that I am simply omitting from the discussion? Although this post is admittedly abstract, I think it is worth addressing some of these questions as these are the types of issues that new law professors who want to do interdisciplinary work face as they enter the legal academy.