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Nicole Roughan

2016: Associate Professor Nicole Roughan, University of Auckland, Faculty of Law, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research entitled: 'Jurisprudence without Borders: A Pluralist Theory of Law'.


Dr Nicole Roughan will take up a position as Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, Faculty of Law, in January 2018. Nicole is a graduate of Yale Law School, Victoria University of Wellington, and the University of Auckland. Nicole is currently an Assiociate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, where she is also Deputy-Director of the Centre for Legal Theory. Nicole has formerly held appointments at the University of Cambridge, Trinity College, Cambridge, the University of Kent at Brussels, and Victoria University of Wellington. As a student, Nicole was a recipient of a Fulbright Graduate Student Award, and a NZ Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Award. Nicole’s research field is the philosophy of law, where she has a particular interest in the interactions of legal systems and orders, and the resulting challenges for understanding law’s authority. She is the author of Authorities: Conflicts, Cooperation, and Transnational Legal Theory (Oxford, 2013) as well as articles published in leading law journals and commissioned book chapters. Nicole is currently working on a new book, Officials, which examines the centrality of the idea of the legal official to both the existence and legitimacy of law’s authority. She also has collaborative projects under way exploring the theoretical foundations of indigenous laws, and the methodologies of non-state legal theory. 

Research summary

The field of legal theory (jurisprudence) is in the midst of a revival of attention to the analysis and justification of law beyond the law of sovereign states. Such ‘pluralist jurisprudence’ investigates the existence, operation, and implications of non-state legal phenomena such as international law, transnational law, regional law, indigenous law, customary law, and religious law. This emerging field seeks to explain and evaluate the interactions of these diverse legal systems – if they are systems – with each other and with state law. Such analysis raises questions about the role of borders – can they justifiably limit legal jurisdictions, political communities, and legal systems, in ways that cut them off from one another? If not, then what are the evaluative and analytical tools that legal theorists and jurists need, in order to examine law between or beyond borders? 

With this Fellowship, Dr Roughan seeks to build a fully-worked out pluralist theory of law, a ‘jurisprudence without borders’, which focuses squarely on the possibility that a theory of law neither needs nor should have borders around the phenomena that it explains. She argues that such a theory must be able to explain the normativity of law (the conditions under which law is binding), law’s institutionalization (the forms, institutions, and systems thorough which law operates upon subjects), law’s coercive enforcement (the extent to which law can justifiably coerce subjects), and importantly, law’s role in the pursuit of a just political structure. These are among the core questions addressed by philosophers of law, but they have yet to be integrated, systematically, into an account that starts with the puzzles posed by legal pluralism. The challenge here is not simply to identify the impact of legal pluralism upon the core questions in philosophy of law, rather it is to address these questions systematically and comprehensively, in a way that deals adequately with challenges from theories outside of the core canon of the subject.

While the project speaks to an international audience of legal theorists, and poses a foundational challenge to much of the received wisdom in the canon of jurisprudence, it also has both resonance and potential practical implications for legal and constitutional debates in New Zealand, for the design of legal/political institutions, and for substantive law reform. In particular, the New Zealand context features local legal pluralism, both in the form of tikanga Maori’s interaction with state law, and deep interactions between New Zealand’s legal system and the international and transnational legal orders.