Re-asserting the doctrinal legal research methodology in the South African academy: Navigating the maze

Author: Mkhululi Nyathi

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: Senior Lecturer, School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 140 Issue 2, p. 365-386


With the focus in the South African higher education landscape shifting towards research output, it is imperative that law schools equip postgraduate law students with proper legal research skills for them to carry out their legal research effectively. While the doctrinal legal research methodology has always been used in legal research and is well suited for the discipline of law, it has been subjected to serious criticism for some time, with some scholars labelling it as arrogant, non-objective and lacking in academic flair. Those who criticise the doctrinal legal research method tend to prescribe for the discipline of law research methodologies popular in other disciplines, such as the qualitative and quantitative methodologies that are popular in the social sciences. While a legal scholar doing interdisciplinary legal research is free to use such methodologies, these methodologies may not be suitable for classical legal research. The doctrinal legal research methodology remains the most appropriate methodology for legal research, as it is concerned with solving legal problems through the legal analysis of legal norms. The sources of legal norms are internally determined by the discipline itself and cannot be identified through qualitative and quantitative research.