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The Structural Transformation of Public Law

The research field on the “structural transformation of public law” seeks to reconstruct and critically evaluate structural changes in the normative relationships of public law. The social and political framework in which public law is situated is increasingly determined by institutions, actors, spaces and forms of action beyond the nation-state. With this shift has come a fundamentally new constellation of public law. Administrative as well as constitutional requirements have radically changed. This transformation of public order and the exercise of authority must be conceptually grasped and reappraised both with regards to its efficacy and its legitimacy. The research in this field explicates the public-legal dimensions of this broader normative structural transformation.

The focus on structure draws attention to fundamentals – to the dynamic relationships between the requirements, forms, and limits of public law. Important aspects of the current dynamic include the processes of inter- and supra-nationalization, the fraught and shifting relationship between public and private, as well as changes in the way in which public-legal norms are enacted, implemented, and interpreted. These multiple and often multivalent processes are of interest, above all, as elements of a public-legal structural transformation. Of particular concern is the role, form and content of principles of public law, which orient the dialectic of unity and difference within its doctrinal and institutional framework.

Over 50 years ago Jürgen Habermas’ Habilitation, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, was published. The Frankfurt philosopher taught during this time in Heidelberg. The current research endeavors in Heidelberg cannot be understood apart from the motivating impulse of his penetrating questions and insights. Habermas brought together an interest in the public sphere and its historicity with the unorthodox influence of the Hegelian tradition. He expressed the fervent conviction that the realization of a vibrant public sphere represents an essential good, which must be carefully respected and protected.

The juristic perspective of this research field specifically interrogates the legal aspects of a broader social and political structural transformation. To be sure, law can only be understood in relation to other normative and empirical developments, which is why we search out a conversation with philosophy and political theory, as well as with other disciplines, in particular, economics, sociology, and history.