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PhD Sadowski: The best thing you can do is learn languages

PhD Miroslaw Michal Sadowski – lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. Researcher in the “Mnenmonic Reality” project at the University of Aberta in Lisbon and a fellow at CEBRAP – Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning in São Paulo. He also works as a research assistant in the “Memocracy” project at the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. His main interests lie at the intersection of law and memory, sociology of law, and cultural heritage law.

The article is part of a series of Coopercnius conversations with Polish scientists with foreign scientific backgrounds.

How did your adventure with science begin?

My adventure with science in terms of research began in high school (XII LO in Wroclaw), when my Polish language teacher motivated me to participate in the Polish Language Olympiad, the first stage of which consisted of preparing a short scientific article. Although I was unsuccessful in the further stage the first time, the following year I became a finalist in the Olympiad of Polish Literature and Language, which not only exempted me from the Polish Baccalaureate, but at the same time made me realize how much I enjoyed working on articles. During my law studies at the Faculty of Law, Administration and Economics at the University of Wroclaw, I continued my research work, combining it with classes, being active in two scientific circles.

What factors drove your decision to go abroad? What were the biggest challenges associated with this decision?

It was not easy for me to make the decision to go abroad; however, I was ultimately persuaded by the greater opportunities not only to conduct, but especially to disseminate my research. The biggest challenge was to convince myself that a person from Poland after a Polish master’s degree is just as worthy of considering candidacy, for a PhD, at a leading foreign university as someone from Anglo-Saxon countries. Fortunately, it worked out, and in 2019 I began my doctoral studies at the Faculty of Law at McGill University in Canada, which is among the top 20 law faculties in the world. I completed it in 2023 with the defense of my dissertation.

What are the benefits to you of working in an international scientific environment compared to working in Poland?

Undoubtedly, a significant advantage is the wide availability of materials in electronic form, from all over the world, including our region. Because of the many databases to which the libraries of foreign universities have permanent access – this incredibly facilitates scientific work. Another advantage is also the high visibility of the research: not so much because of publishing in English (which, of course, is also possible in Poland), but because of affiliation, which can open many doors, whether in personal relationships or simply through subsequent higher positioning in search engines.

Do you maintain contact with the Polish scientific community?

Yes, of course, not only on a personal level, but also on a scientific level. This year marks the end of my participation in the “Memocracy” project, where I was a research assistant at the Poznan Center for Human Rights of the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

What are you currently working on and what is the main focus of your scientific research?

I am currently continuing my research on the relationship between law and memory conducted since the beginning of my master’s studies. We are just starting, together with three European universities (Aberta University of Lisbon, University of Cologne, Mykolas Romeris University of Vilnius), a project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation called “Mnemonic Reality,” which aims to study how different countries of the European Union (and selected societies) approach the issue of Holocaust denial, which is unfortunately becoming an increasingly common problem.

What are the latest developments in your field of research that are of particular interest to you?

Undoubtedly, at any given moment in the field of law and memory, we can observe, on the one hand, an increasing interest in non-European regions, and, on the other hand, in the countries of the so-called West, a turn towards attempts to solve problematic issues of the past by creating special legal mechanisms. Both issues are very interesting and raise, above all, the question of “why now,” which our discipline must answer.

What is your most important scientific achievement or discovery? Why is it important?

My personal greatest scholarly achievement is certainly the recently published monograph “Intersections of Law and Memory. Influencing Perceptions of the Past” (Routledge 2024) written based on my doctoral dissertation. In it, I present the author’s approach to analyzing the relationship between law and collective memory based on the idea of legal institutions of memory (e.g., reparations, lustration), which I then use to examine the relationship between law and memory in several countries from different parts of the world, including Poland.

What scientific problems, in your discipline, are you most looking forward to solving, and why?

Undoubtedly, after the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, voices calling for the removal of symbols of widespread oppression from public space, concerning, for example, certain street names and monuments, have intensified. We still don’t have the legal tools to properly analyze and carry out such changes, which (especially in relation to monuments) are often hindered by laws on the protection of cultural heritage. Perhaps the next few years will bring us some more comprehensive proposals for resolving such situations.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your scientific work?

As in Poland, one of the biggest challenges is always the funding of research and research trips – unfortunately, in this regard, the humanities and social sciences always have it harder than the sciences, because it is often much less clear to us to demonstrate the need for certain research, library searches, etc., in a particular place.

What are the most important research questions you plan to address in the near future? What developments do you see in your field?

Leaving aside for the moment the research questions I have already mentioned, I would also like to address the question of comparing approaches to the difficult colonial legacy in Britain and Brazil. In this way, I hope to contribute to the further development of the aforementioned debate regarding the resolution of problematic symbols of the past. While currently teaching in Scotland, I am also working with CEBRAP, the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning, which gives me the opportunity to conduct the necessary in situ research.

Are there practical implications or potential applications of the results of your research? How do you see their impact on society or the economy?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, debates about the future, often known to us only from our region, are now becoming increasingly popular around the world. I hope that my research will, at least to some extent, allow us to understand not only why we are currently dealing with this phenomenon, but also how to respond to it in such a way that potential social conflicts in such situations can be resolved as quickly as possible.

What advice would you give to young scientists at the threshold of their scientific careers?

Directing my words in particular to younger colleagues in Poland, the best thing you can do for the development of your career is to learn foreign languages (not only English, but also some other language that will allow you to establish contacts with scientists from perhaps a smaller, but no less interesting region in terms of research). I myself learned Portuguese during my graduate studies, which allowed me to establish research collaborations with Portugal and Brazil. In addition, you should not be afraid of anything and should aim high – many even the most prestigious conferences gladly accept proposals for presentations from young scientists from different parts of the world, giving, in case of a good presentation and openness to newcomers, a great chance to promote your research (perhaps also in the form of a post-conference publication) and make contacts that will later prove very helpful in your future career.

Fot. Unsplash

Miroslaw Sadowski
Marta Sikora
Written by:

Marta Sikora

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