UCL Laws Research Degree Programmes
DR GRIETJE BAARS (2012)
Doctorandus (1997) University of Utrecht, CPE (1998) and LPC (1999)
The College of Law, LL.M (2004) UCL
University College London, PhD (2012)
Solicitor, England & Wales, qualified 2002
My thesis, entitled “Law(yers) congealing capitalism: On the impossibility of restraining business in conflict through international criminal law” is a radical Marxist critique of law & capitalism using Pashukanis’ commodity form theory. It was an ambitious project with chapters spanning the historical development of law, capitalism and the corporate form, corporate colonialism, the Nuremberg trials of the industrialists, today’s corporate interest in conflict and a critique of the current ‘business & human rights’ literature. I wanted it to point to a way out of the deadlock between contemporary calls for “corporate accountability” and the realization that such accountability does not exist because of the reality of corporate power. My conclusion is that the solution to the problem of business involvement in conflict lies outside of law, and (as it behooves a Marxist) in wholesale systemic change.
I passed my viva with no corrections. As I had submitted my thesis on a disaster-ridden Friday the 13th, having the viva on 15 March (“Beware the Ides of March!”) seemed ominous as well as appropriate. My examiners were Prof. Susan Marks of the LSE (who is prominent theorist of international law) and Dr. Douglas Guilfoyle of UCL (whose expertise includes international criminal law and who like me has a background in commercial practice). The examiners’ probing questions gave me ideas as to how the thesis could be adapted to be turned into a book in due course.
The part-time PhD experience
So I am living proof that a part-time PhD can be done, although it definitely isn’t easy! As I already had some years’ experience in legal practice (with City firm Bird & Bird) I wanted to do my PhD part-time while continuing to work. I also think that it helped my academic understanding to stay actively involved in seeing how law works in practice. Highlights of my experience include working as an in-house solicitor for an international retailer on the restructuring of their multinational corporate group and spending three years in the Middle East. I was a Visiting Scholar at Tel Aviv University, co-founded a human rights clinic at Al-Quds University, and worked as an IHL advisor on a programme run by Diakonia with several Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations. The latter culminated in an international conference on IHL enforcement I organized in Brussels. Finally, I worked with the UN Factfinding Mission on Gaza led by Justice Goldstone as one of the lawyers and researchers supporting the team.
As you may imagine, focusing on the PhD thesis is hard in a high-pressure work environment and although I learnt a lot about law during my work, eventually I had to take some time off to dedicate to writing up. For this I went to Berlin where as a Visiting Scholar at the Humboldt University I was able to work on the Nuremberg trials of the industrialists (a big part of the thesis) in the midst of a community of scholars engaged with similar tasks. I also had several supervision sessions with Prof. Redgwell via Skype during this time, which worked really well. The final stretch I completed back at home in London while in the first months of my first lectureship.
My part-time experience left me with a vast network of contacts around the world – I have spoken at many international conferences and have guest-lectured widely to audiences including the German military and the House of Lords. While completing the PhD took every ounce of perseverance I had, I do recommend the part-time approach to people who want a thesis very much rooted in ‘real world experience’.
In the few months since submitting the thesis I have slowly felt the PhD-blinkers come off and I am able to start thinking more constructively about future projects. I had already started a lectureship at the City Law School in July 2011 and am now in the process of setting up a really exciting multi-disciplinary research project with a colleague (Professor André Spicer) at the Cass Business School. In this project we aim to consolidate critical perspectives on the corporation and derive new insights from the synergies produced when one puts critical company lawyers, critical management studies people, business anthropologists and organizational sociologists in a room together. Passing the viva definitely feels like an intellectual ‘coming of age’ and I can’t wait to get stuck into new things.
Advice for PhD students – Preparations for the Viva
In preparation for the viva my supervisor Professor Catherine Redgwell offered to do a mock viva, which I strongly recommend doing. It gave me some practice in defending my thesis orally, as opposed to just in writing or “in my head”. One afternoon a week before “D-day” I invited a good friend - a PhD student writing on a similar topic - and spent a whole afternoon really getting into the nitty gritty of my theoretical claims: sometimes friends can be your best critics! It is important also to relax also in preparation for the viva, and not to get too panicky about it. After all, you are the one who has been working on this specific topic for years! I read my thesis again, thoroughly (while trying not to get upset about the typos and weird formatting errors) and made bullet pointed notes (which you can take into the viva with you) for the main generic questions: “what is your thesis about?”, “why did you chose this topic?”, “explain your methodology”, and “what does your thesis add to the literature?”. I tried to stand back from the text and imagine what someone looking at it for the first time might think and ask. I also made some notes on what I meant by some of the main concepts I use, like “imperialism”, “global governance” and “the global capitalist class”. In the end, I didn’t use my notes in the viva, but it was good to have them there just in case.
Edited on 15 August 2012