Authority and Compulsion in Legal-Historical Method

  •  Caleb Goltz    


Case law is often used as evidence of a political action, similar to a pamphlet or speech. Yet, legal decisions are different from other sources in that when they function as precedent they have authority not only in the case at hand, but also in similar future cases. Recovering and using case law in the process of doing qualitative research is then inherently normative in the sense that researchers’ actions may influence the outcome of future legal cases. This article argues that case law in the common law world is a unique type of source presenting normative entanglements and challenges not found in other historical documents, and that these normative issues have been overlooked because the concept of authority has received little attention in qualitative methodology. Consideration of the authority of our source material helps us to understand not only the context of the original source, but also to anticipate and appreciate the future uses to which others may put our work.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.