Ongoing societal challenges – for example relations of social inequality, political and economic power imbalances, and pressure on our natural environment - call for the heightened engagement of scholars, including legal scholars, in both understanding the mechanisms behind these challenges, and articulating the ways to address them. Private law plays an important role in the making and unmaking of those challenges. By providing a basic framework for engagement between private parties, private law molds social relations, shapes subjectivities, furthers values, and grants enforcement mechanisms to sustain these functions. In the context of economic globalisation, private law has even become the backbone for making the global economy. Private law, in short, is both a sustaining and transformative force in society.
ACT offers high-quality contributions to research and education on the role of private law in constituting and changing societies. We understand private law in a broad sense, encompassing both traditional areas (including contract, tort, property, family, and company law) and relative newcomers in the field (such as consumer law, labour law, insolvency law and financial law). In our research and teaching we make use of a variety of methods in order to understand the various dimensions of private law.
Our exploration of both the sustaining and the transformative power of private law is transdisciplinary. We combine thorough legal analysis with pertinent insights from fields such as political and critical theory, political economy, moral theory, behavioural sciences, and economic analysis. We deepen our understanding through active engagement with scholars from different disciplines, as well as other societal actors (both government and civil society).
Our interest in the transformative capacity of law is underscored by our acronym ACT. This acronym highlights that we realise the importance of law, and private law in particular, in the making of our political economy, as well as our responsibility to articulate how private law both serves to institute the status quo and how it can help to change it. Furthermore, the acronym expresses our understanding of our research as an act; an act that is, however, conditioned on both a plurality of perspectives and academic freedom.
ACT is a centre with a history: it builds on decades of top research in the field of European private law, within the framework of the former Centre for Study of European Contract Law (CSECL). The new name expresses the expansion of our research focus, reflecting our interest in not only Europeanisation, but also globalisation, datafication, digitalization, and sustainability. ACT inherits and builds on CSECL’s distinctive approach to the social justice dimensions of private law, the critique of dominant private law discourses, and the effective protection of vulnerable parties through private law.
ACT is socially relevant and impactful. We engage with stakeholders from civil society and public authorities in order to deepen our understanding and make more effective transformative proposals that further our mission. ACT researchers build on their historically strong links to actors and institutions at both the European and national level. Our researchers have acted as experts for the European Commission and the European Parliament. They have also established a prominent network of European judges, engaged in private law practice, and assisted numerous civil society organisations by providing expert knowledge.