Podgórecki Prize 2020: Alysia Paige Blackham

Announcement by Angelica Cuellar, Chair of the 2020 Podgórecki Prize Committee

Dear colleagues of the Research Committee on Sociology of Law (RCSL), good afternoon,

First of all, I would like to thank Ulrike for all the support and organization. Despite the world situation we are facing due to the Pandemic, she has made extraordinary efforts to carry on with the activities of the Research Committee on Sociology of Law virtually.

I was honoured to be chair of the Evaluating Committee for the Podgorecki Prize 2020, which also included Marina Kurkchiyan from Oxford University and Iker Barbero from the University of the Basque Country. I want to thank them for their support and discussions to determine a winner. Finally, I would like to thank all the candidates who sent their CVs and letters of support. The Committee was quite pleased by the participation and the level of scientific production demonstrated. For this reason, the Committee decided to award an Honorary Mention to Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen, because of her outstanding achievements as a scholar in the field of sociology of law.

On behalf of the Evaluating Committee, I would like to congratulate Alysia Paige Blackham, associate professor of the Law School of Melbourne University.

The academic and scientific production that Alysia has built throughout her career has allowed her to consolidate research topics of great importance for our academic community.

Alysia is a proud representative of Sociology of Law, which is nurtured by empirical investigation. Her research involves law and discrimination in varied contexts and settings, which she has presented in books, book chapters and a vast amount of articles.

She has been invited to various universities of recognized quality, such as:

Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge; Faculty of Law, Lund University; Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales; University of Sydney, University of Helsinki, Oxford University, Kobe University, Japan, and Macquarie University. One of the main tasks that must be accomplished as an RCSL member is widening the frontiers and spreading the results and strategies of our research. We believe that Alysia has accomplished this mission.

The numerous awards she has been given by internationally prestigious institutions in and outside Australia, her country of origin, can only reflect the arduous work she has dedicated to Sociology of Law research.

For the reasons mentioned and for the content of the letters of support received, the Committee decided to award the Podgorecki Prize 2020 to Alysia.

Angelica Cuellar


Laureate’s Address

Building Bridges, Making Waves: Age, Inequality and Socio-Legal Studies

I am deeply honoured to receive the 2020 Podgórecki Prize for outstanding scholarship by an early career socio-legal scholar. I am profoundly grateful to those who put forward my nomination – Professor Sharyn Roach Anleu, Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, and Professor Pompeu Casanovas – and to the Committee for adjudicating the Prize.

Today I wish to make three points, reflecting on my previous work (which was the subject of the Prize nomination), my current work, and the future of the field of socio-legal studies. First, I want to reflect on how socio-legal research might build bridges, both across and within disciplines. Second, I will consider how socio-legal research might make waves, within and beyond the academy. Third, and finally, I will conclude by reflecting on what this means for the future of the field of socio-legal studies.

First, then, I will reflect on how socio-legal research might build bridges, both across and within disciplines. The very foundation of socio-legal research is embedded in the building of bridges across disciplinary boundaries – indeed, the very rejecting of disciplinary

boundaries themselves (1) – as we engage with and contribute to both legal and interdisciplinary methods and scholarship. But socio-legal research can also build bridges within legal research itself, including across the fields of public and private law; and across different research methods and approaches. This is seen, for example, in the use of mixed methods research designs, which integrate qualitative and quantitative research methods to develop new and challenging insights into legal problems, enriching our understanding of legal phenomena, questioning our assumptions about research and research methods, and building a challenging and inclusive approach to legal scholarship.

Substantively, in my own work, I have sought to build bridges in the areas of age and inequality, spanning labour law, equality law and public law. I have used an age and equality lens to examine legal and socio-legal issues, traversing both public and private law. This has included, for example, research examining individual and organisational experiences of age discrimination at work, in particular organisations (such as universities, (2) manufacturing, government and quasi-government organisations), (3) but also as they affect judges and judging.(4) My work considers how law influences how people view the world; age discrimination law in particular is a form of regulation with largely progressive intent, but where it is difficult to effect meaningful social change. Using reflexive law theory, I consider how law might ‘irritate’ organisational responses to prompt equality, and how we might explain perverse or unexpected impacts of legal change.(5) In my work, I bridge public and private law, using mixed methods research designs, integrating surveys, statistical analysis, qualitative expert interviews, documentary analysis, and doctrinal research.(6) By bridging qualitative and quantitative methods, I seek to map the impact of law, critique how we might view legal ‘effectiveness’, and interrogate the limits of legal intervention.

Second, then, it is important to reflect on how socio-legal research may make waves, both within and beyond the academy. This recognises the significant impact we can have as socio-legal scholars, within and beyond our field. Beyond the academy, our research can influence organisational practices and legal development. We can do this by, for example, undertaking engaged research, in collaboration and partnership with governments, equality agencies, unions, employers, and non-governmental organisations. We can influence social change through and within the research process itself; simply by posing the right questions, we can encourage respondents to think in new ways about law, and (in my field) about equality. We can also make waves through research impact and outreach activities, including by holding inclusive scholarly events; making submissions to government inquiries; and by working collaboratively with equality agencies and practitioners to gather data, identify problems and create solutions. For example, my work on age discrimination against judges has led to judicial retirement ages being increased in at least two Australian jurisdictions.

In undertaking this outreach work, I have been privileged to work with the Australian Discrimination Law Experts group, a group of academics with shared expertise in equality law. (7) Much of our collaborative work has involved responding to the many government consultations relating to equality law. By working together, we have shared the load of making waves, and have had significant influence on the development of equality law across Australia. For example, our input was highly influential in developing a new and innovative piece of legislation – the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) ¬– which reflects best practice internationally in advancing gender equality in the public sector. With an expert interdisciplinary team, I am currently working with the new Victorian Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector to examine the implementation of the Act, reviewing how it can be optimised into the future to best advance equality.

Socio-legal research and socio-legal researchers can also have a significant impact within the academy. At my own institution, I founded and continue to lead an Empirical Research Network, to support and advance empirical research across all legal fields.(8) This Network is particularly important for higher degree research students, who form half of the Network’s members. To strengthen this support, I have also implemented empirical research training as part of our doctoral training program, and created a new subject within our juris doctor degree that introduces students to empirical legal research. By integrating empirical research into each stage of legal training, we can support and advance the next generation of socio-legal scholars.

Third, and finally, this leads naturally to consider the future of the field of socio-legal studies. Clearly, the future of our field is very bright! Socio-legal research is uniquely positioned to offer insights into the complex, thorny problems that face contemporary society. One of the real strengths of socio-legal studies is its inclusive and eclectic nature. As Roger Cotterell has emphasised, the ‘rich, almost anarchic heterogeneity’ of socio-legal studies, and its openness to different aims, outlooks, and disciplines,(9) means we can offer new perspectives and outlooks to legal scholarship, across both empirical and theoretical questions. Socio-legal research can reshape legal research, renewing its engagement with social change.(10) Engagement beyond the academy is critical to this reshaping process: there is increasing demand and appetite for engaged socio-legal and empirical legal research from government, practitioners, and NGOs.(11) The future of our field is bright, as we continue to build bridges and make waves, within the academy and beyond.


(1) Roger Cotterrell, ‘Subverting Orthodoxy, Making Law Central: A View of Sociolegal Studies’ (2002) 29 Journal of Law and Society 632, 633.

(2) Alysia Blackham, ‘Managing without Default Retirement in Universities: A Comparative Picture from Australia’ (2015) 35 Legal Studies 502; Alysia Blackham, ‘An Experimentalist Approach to Equality: A Case Study of Retirement in the UK University Sector’ (2019) 39 Legal Studies 598.

(3) Alysia Blackham, Extending Working Life for Older Workers: Age Discrimination Law, Policy and Practice (Hart Publishing 2016).

(4) Alysia Blackham, ‘Judges and Retirement Ages’ (2016) 39 Melbourne University Law Review 738; Alysia Blackham, ‘Judicial Retirement Ages in the UK: Legitimate Aims and Proportionate Means?’ [2017] Public Law 196.

(5) Alysia Blackham, ‘Reflexive Change? A Quantitative Review of the Impact of the Equality Act 2010 on Age Equality Measures in Organisations’ (2016) 16 International Journal of Discrimination and the Law 122; Alysia Blackham, ‘Re-Systematising Labour Law: Beyond Traditional Systems Theory and Reflexive Law?’ in Alysia Blackham, Miriam Kullmann and Ania Zbyszewska (eds), Theorising Labour Law in a Changing World: Towards Inclusive Labour Law (Hart 2019).

(6) Alysia Blackham, ‘When Law and Data Collide: The Methodological Challenge of Conducting Mixed Methods Research in Law’ (2022) 49 Journal of Law & Society forthcoming.

(7) See http://www.adleg.org.au

(8) See https://law.unimelb.edu.au/research-programs/ern

(9) Cotterrell (n 1) 632–3.

(10) ibid 634.

(11) Hazel G Genn, Martin Partington and Sally Wheeler, Law in the Real World – Improving Our Understanding of How Law Works: Final Report and Recommendations (Nuffield Foundation 2006) http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Law%20in%20the%20Real%20World%20full%20report.pdf  accessed 21 May 2012.

Alysia Blackham


(This page last updated 12 July 2022; texts first published in RCSL Newsletter 2022 (1))