Bruno Debaenst

Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Law; Professors, Instructors, Researchers

+46 18 471 76 75
Visiting address:
Trädgårdsgatan 1 och 20, Västra Ågatan 26
Postal address:
Box 512
751 20 UPPSALA

Short presentation

Greetings! I am a Flemish legal historian. Since 2018, I have held the position of "lektor" and "docent i rättshistoria" (senior lecturer and associate professor in legal history) at the Law Faculty of Uppsala University. My research pursuits encompass Belgian, Swedish, and comparative legal history. My particular area of expertise is centered around the historical development of social law.


  • comparative legal history


I possess academic qualifications in the fields of history (1999), law (2003), and criminology (2006). Additionally, between 2003 and 2008, I accrued practical experience within the legal field as an attorney (advocaat) at the Ghent bar. In 2005, I assumed the role of full-time assistant at the Ghent Institute for Legal History (Instituut voor Rechtsgeschiedenis, Faculty of Law), specializing in legal history. A year later, in 2006, I embarked on my doctoral research project focusing on the juridification of workplace accidents during the nineteenth century in Belgium. I successfully completed and defended my thesis in 2010, which was more than a year prior to the conclusion of my assistantship.

Upon reflection, the subject of workplace accident juridification has proven to be exceptionally fertile. My perspective as a historian encompassed a fascination with both archival sources and historical-contextual elements. With my legal background, I possessed the requisite aptitude to scrutinize and grasp legal facets across various legal domains, including (early) social law, civil law (particularly contractual and extra-contractual liability law), criminal law, and more. My prior experience as an attorney facilitated a deeper comprehension of the practical application of law, a perspective that greatly enhanced my research.

In 2012, I secured external funding from the Flemish Scientific Council (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek - FWO) for a three-year post-doctoral research endeavor, which centered on the international dimensions of my area of interest. This project aimed to identify the catalysts and driving forces behind the stages and intricacies of the juridification process. This was accomplished through an examination of the legal evolution of workplace accidents within several industrializing nations during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Throughout this era, workplace accidents evolved from mere occurrences ("malheurs" or Acts of God) into "legal facts," signifying events carrying legal ramifications. These shifts were closely interlinked with the industrialization process, which resulted in the emergence of the "modern workplace accident" due to industrial risk. My project scrutinized four dimensions of the juridification of industrial workplace accidents: the administrative facet (comprising safety regulations and inspections to preclude workplace accidents), the judicial dimension (encompassing workplace accident trials pursued by victims or their kin to secure compensation for sustained damages), the doctrinal aspect (exploring the question of liability and labor contracts), and the legislative scope (pertaining to workplace accident insurance legislation). Through this research, my aim was to present clearer theoretical insights into juridification, a concept frequently characterized by vagueness in contemporary legal scholarship, often impeding practical utility for scholars.

I have also dedicated my research to the exploration of the private international organization focused on workplace accidents and social insurances (1889-1914). This organization serves as a mirror to the development of the so-called early modern welfare state and played an active role in its shaping. Functioning as a platform for specialists in the field to convene and exchange ideas, it fostered the formation of distinct national and international epistemic communities.

In addition to my principal research themes outlined above, as evidenced by my publication record, I have ventured into various realms of the history of social law. These explorations encompassed Belgium's history of labor contracts, labor courts, social law periodicals, the punitive measures against striking workers, among others.

I also delved into unrelated subjects within different legal disciplines, encompassing procedural law (the pro Deo-system, justices of the peace), family and humanitarian law (the 1979 Marckx decision by the European Court of Human Rights), and constitutional law (the 1581 Act of abjuration and Belgian influence on extradition regulations).


My ongoing research is centered on the following key areas:

Genesis of the Modern Welfare States

This research delves into the pre-World War I era, a time when social insurances were disseminating across the Western industrialized and industrializing nations. By adopting the lens of international conferences on workplace accidents and social insurances, convened from 1889 to 1914, I seek to gain deeper insights into this captivating evolutionary process.

International Organizations as Catalysts of Legal Development

International organizations offer a distinctive vantage point for conducting comparative legal historical research. Not only do they serve as mirrors reflecting legal progress, but they frequently wield an active role in the propagation of legal ideologies. Furthermore, they can be examined as international epistemic communities, intricate networks of professionals who possess authoritative expertise and competence within specific domains, thereby shaping policy-relevant knowledge.

State and Prospects of Swedish Legal History

As a Belgian legal historian specialized in Belgian legal history, the realm of Swedish (and Scandinavian) legal history presents itself as a realm of novelty and intrigue. I aim to harness my outsider's perspective, stemming from my unfamiliarity with this context, to uncover captivating and innovative research avenues within the sphere of Swedish Legal History.


Selection of publications

Recent publications

All publications




Bruno Debaenst