IOS Longtermism Platform Member Spotlight: Elaine Mak on equipping rule-of-law institutions to act for the long-term

Elaine Mak is Professor of Jurisprudence and Dean of the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance at Utrecht University. Her research and teaching connect a legal-theoretical perspective with studies in comparative constitutional law and empirical-legal analysis.

What does 'longtermism' mean to you?

"When thinking about longtermism, I am interested in exploring the question of what rule-of-law institutions – such as legislatures, governments and judiciaries – need in order to be well-equipped for acting in the long-term. In my research, I analyze how these institutions, judiciaries in particular, adapt to legal and social changes, such as the globalization and digitalization of societies. 

A pressing contemporary issue that judges are faced with, and for which their judgments will have effects in the long-term, concerns ecological sustainability, which inter alia requires decisions on social justice for current and future generations. I am interested in finding out how judiciaries and individual judges can approach this kind of challenge on multiple levels: those of the institutional role (constitutional level), design and management of court systems (organizational level), and the competencies of judges (professional level).

The Longtermism Platform helps me to appreciate questions of institutional change and professional adaptation in a multi- and interdisciplinary perspective, for example by learning from geoscience research about possible techniques to mitigate or adapt to climate change or from social science research about ways in which social-psychological mechanisms can explain human behaviour in relation to issues of sustainability.

Regarding my involvement in the Longtermism Platform, I am most happy so far with my cooperation with Rianka Rijnhout on the podcast series ‘Focused on the Future’. Five episodes have been published this year already, bringing together societal stakeholders and scholars from different disciplines at Utrecht University."

Stay tuned for more spotlights on the core members of the Longtermism & Institutional Change platform and how this idea shapes their perspectives and research endeavours.