Critical Legal Conference, 14–16 September 2012: Complete List of Streams

by | 2 May 2012

International law, Genocide and Imperialism: The Colonial Origins of Human Rights?

We Need to Talk About Human Rights

Conveners: Catherine Turner & Liam Thornton (University of Ulster)

In the Garden of Justice human rights have long been seen as a desirable addition. Aesthetically pleasing, the presence of human rights adds considerable depth to the Garden. However, in recent years gardeners have struggled to manage the exotic new plant. Its rapid annual growth and relentless spread has allowed it to overwhelm a variety of other native plants that existed within the Garden. In practical terms what this means is that there is an increased reliance on human rights law as being a solution to what once were viewed as political issues. Human rights law is viewed as a panacea to political and social conflict. The garden risks losing its character as a colourful and multifaceted space within which questions of justice jostle for prominence and recognition. The new and exotic species of human rights law may yet colonise the Garden of Justice. This raises issues in relation to hierarchy, power and the very notion of human rights as a legal instrument.

This stream calls for a more sustained problematisation of the relationship between justice and rights. In particular it seeks to address the increasing colonisation of “justice” by human rights law.

Contacts: Catherine Turner, and Liam Thornton,

The Question: Gardens without Gardeners? Gardeners without Gardens?

Conveners: Oren Ben-Dor (Southampton) & Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (Westminster, London)

We take up the conference theme in earnest, looking at gardens as the place of questioning. We invite you to walk through, dwell in, or simply look at gardens and to share your path.

Gardens are yearned for and yet, the place in which this yearning emerges remains hidden from those who create and maintain gardens. In holding their secrets, in pointing to their secret which is in the garden, gardens continue to unfold as boundaries between the history(ies) within which they emerged and a more ancient remembrance; between the rhythms, songs, cultivations, memory, spaces of the human world, and that of the earth or nature that gently refuses to be gardened, a refusal that precisely enhances the gardenness of the garden as the mindfulness of its creators. A form of boundary, gardens are places where the due of justice dwells, pointing at the question: is there something always earlier than the garden, that remains other than mere representation, punctuation, allocation and indeed perception? Or is the here of the garden all there is to it, in its fullness of presence, without history and origin but just as a lush, viscous now?

Do gardens point to the precariousness and mystery of their beginning or do they let go of that by throwing themselves in an orgiastic blooming? Every garden is grounded yet also hanging. In gardens, humans desire to preserve something that can not be disempowered by their making and crafting. Good gardening lets the garden be, bearing witness to sublime custodianship rather than merely steering and design. Gardens, then, sustain the possibility of being on the way to be reclaimed, presencing something that cannot be designed away. So we ask: what is that which is taken refuge from in the garden? What can be unlearnt and what opens up? What is left behind and what is being returned? Is there home in the garden? Gardens demand care, and this latter is located between the crafted sayings of the jurisdictional, institutional adversarial spaces, and the “open”, self-concealing or self-pulsating saying of earth.

We invite you to walk into the garden, to encounter other bodies, organic or inorganic, and explore their connection with the surrounding space and other bodies. To imagine a just garden as well as an unjust garden. To succumb to your instincts and close it up behind safe walls or demolish the walls and open it up to whatever outside you might be imagining. To construct laws that trammel the garden, as well as laws that connect it to other gardens. To think of ethics of “gardening”, of creation and creativity but also that of letting, of wilderness and order, of the normativity of the earth and that of the imagination.

So, this stream proposes a twist: we want you to imagine gardens without gardeners – or should we imagine gardeners without a garden? We invite you to imagine moving beyond phenomenology, beyond anthropocentrism, beyond the sacrosanct human nature, indeed beyond humanism, and to tell us what you find there, and is it you who find or was there something that called you earlier than ‘you’? is it being? Is it wild law? Might it be a web of connections without centre becoming without being? Can gardens be places where nothing is? Void? Emptiness — a place of genuine beginning without re-turn? What would it be like to encounter this place? We invite you to let the garden dwell. Can a garden, however imagined, be without a gardener? Can the law be without an all-thermalizing humanism? And if so, what does it look like and indeed who is the looker? Is there a place that we can be lost without having already found our innermost owness in it?

Contacts: Oren Ben-Dor & Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos

Critical Immigration, Asylum and Refugee Law Studies

Conveners: Thanos Zartaloudis (Birkbeck College) & Satvinder Singh Juss (King’s College)

This stream aims to gather academics, graduate students and activists with an interest in immigration law and policy, asylum and refugee law (as well as refugee and migration studies more generally) in order to inaugurate a discussion on legal provisions and forms and practices of critique with, without or against the law. The stream calls for papers on any of the topics listed below and beyond:

— Immigration Enforcement, Detention, Refugee Camps, Deportation and resistance;

— Capitalism & Human Waste production in the time of perpetual crises;

— Criminalization, Privatization and Militarization;

— Theories of Movement Controls and the Society of Control;

— Internally Displaced Persons & Environmentally Displaced Persons: Current and future perspectives.

Contact: Thanos Zartaloudis,

Welfare State as Social Utopia?

Conveners: Toomas Kotkas (Social Insurance Institution of Finland) & Kenny Veitch (University of Sussex)

“The foundation of a home is based on unity and compassion. A good home does not recognise privileged or excluded ones, no favourites and no stepchildren. There no one looks down on the other, no one seeks to profit at the other’s expense, the strong one does not suppress or exploit the weak one. In a good home equality, care, cooperation and helpfulness prevail. If this notion is applied to a larger, people’s or citizens’ home, it would mean that all social and economic obstacles should be crushed; obstacles that now divide citizens into the privileged and the excluded, the rulers and the dependent, the rich and the poor, the affluent and the needy, the exploiters and the exploited. The Swedish society is not yet such a good citizens’ home. Here certainly prevails equality on a formal level, i.e., equality in regard to political rights, but considered from the point of view of the social, the class society still exists and in economy an oligarchy is prevailing. Inequalities are sometimes crying: whereas one part lives in the lap of luxury, many wander from door to door begging for bread, and the poor worry about tomorrow’s world where sickness, unemployment and other misfortunes lurk. For the Swedish society to become a good citizens’ home, class distinctions must be removed, social welfare developed, levelling of the economic differences must take place, the employees must be given part in the administration of economy, and democracy must be effectuated also on a social and economic level.”

These words were uttered by Per Albin Hansson, one of the main ideologists of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, in his speech held in the Diet in Stockholm in 1928. By the 1980s, most of the reforms suggested by Hansson were realized in Sweden. The term “people’s home” (folkhemmet) came to denote, by and large, the Swedish welfare state. Today, it seems, however, that we are still/again faced with similar kinds of social problems once indicated by Hansson — only the terminology has changed. Instead of talking about “class distinctions”, social policy discourse is dominated by such catchwords as “social exclusion” and “income inequality”. Of course, new problems have also occurred. Too high public expenditure and an ageing population cast a shadow over the future of European welfare states. Accordingly, new measures have been introduced to tackle these problems. Activation, New Public Management and privatization, among other things, have all been offered as solutions to these problems.

What has become of the European welfare states today? Was Hansson dreaming of a social utopia that could never be realized? We invite papers that deal with law in today’s welfare state. Francois Ewald characterized the law of the welfare state as droit social, not merely referring to social law as a separate field of law but to a legal logic peculiar to all law in the welfare state. Social law is law of different interests, law of groups and law of compromises. It does not refer to some extra-positive moral order but to the factual reality of a given society. Is Ewald’s account still valid or have we perhaps already entered into an era of new legal logic? Papers addressing all fields of law are welcome, but we especially hope to receive papers that deal with social welfare law. We are particularly interested in the theme of solidarity.

Contact: Toomas Kotkas

Critical Legal Education: Perspectives and Methods

Convener: Ubaldus de Vries (Utrecht University)

Most law degree courses start with one or more introductory course to law. It is within these courses that students get acquainted with law, where it comes from, what it does and how a legal system is organised and structured. Usually, the focus is on positive law — the existing law of the particular jurisdiction in which the student is studying law. It means that introduction to law courses are really introduction to current Dutch positive law, English positive law, etc.

This stream seeks to explore the ideas behind such courses. It does so on the presumption that in these courses the tone is (or can be/should be) set as regards the academic attitude we expect from students: an inquisitive, critical perspective on law, what it is and what it does. What are the perspectives taken on law in these courses and what methods are explored in teaching students to study law inquisitively and critically? Is it by contextualising law through social theory (the age of technology in modernity, post-modernity, liquid modernity, second modernity?), through emphasising a philosophical basis of law and how law pertains to power structures and the political? Is there a shared critical pedagogical ideology within critical legal studies and if so how could it be formulated?

These are some of the questions this stream seeks to explore. In doing so, the stream builds upon the experiences shared in Wales last year.

Contact: Ubaldus de Vries,

The Unconscious of the Courts of Justice: Between the Visible and Invisible

Convener: Isabelle Letellier (Université de Provence, Aix-Marseille I)

The idealization of justice calls for the image of vision: giving a judgment requires that every aspects of the situation have been seen and examined. How can we rely on the truth of justice if it is not based on the decisions of an all-seeing eye? But here precisely, the representation of the all-seeing eye of justice can be considered as a way to repress the invisible of and in justice. From the idealization of justice to the very concrete courts of justice, stands the invisible: the invisible is for instance what must be hidden in order to legitimate justice or what is left of the unknown surrounding the case and the judgment, despite every possible enquiries, but also what is most often not questioned in the prejudices implied in law itself and in the specific setting of the court.

If courts of justice are the place where justice is enunciated, that is, put into an act, they strongly question the idealization of justice, because they are making visible the invisible of the representation of justice which they are based on. How can we question this unconscious representation of justice in the process of representing justice in the courts? To what extent can we look at the setting of the court as a setting of a scene whose aim would be to hide the unknown, or in the Lacanian terms the Real, as the scene of fantasy can constitute a screen memory to the psyche? How the return of the repressed makes his way despite of or paradoxically through the efforts to build a visible setting in the courts of justice?

But if the courts of justice do not succeed in hiding the invisible, they definitely succeed in parting society in a visible part and an invisible one, excluded from the polis, sending unwanted criminals inside the dark walls of prison. When Oedipus becomes aware of his crimes, he blinds himself, because he cannot face the gaze of the citizens of Thebes anymore. If criminals don’t blind themselves, they have to be withdrawn from the gaze of society. In this regard, courts of justice can be considered as keepers of the frontier between the visible and the invisible. Hence can we question courts of justice as places where the maintaining of this frontier holds together society through its division? Can we read it as a place where the Real is de-territorialized? And to what extent can we look at this invisible part excluded by the courts of justice to make visible the unconscious of justice in which society relies on without questioning it?

Contact: Isabelle Letellier,

Law & Anarchism

Convener: Gilbert Leung

There is, to put it mildly, a strong tendency in anarchist circles to think against or outside law (anarkhia). Kropotkin considered Diogenes the Cynic the first true anarchist, the first known in the ‘West’ to counter, both in word and deed, the norms of the city. Kropotkin himself called for disobedience to all authority and to refuse to submit to the law. Today anarchy can also be found in music and art as much as politics, or rather, it also manifests itself in aesthetic political form, one that continues to confront, provoke and guard against the end of history. With such a background, anarchism could lay claim to be one of the most important platforms from which to launch a critique of law.

But this, of course, begs the question: Is there such a thing as an anarchist legal theory, and if there is, how might we conceived it today in the light of recent social, political, and critical theory? Is anarchist thinking contaminated by its own normative concerns and would this be the same as saying it is contaminated by legality? On the other hand, is the ground of law itself anarchic, contingent, without foundation or head, except for ones ‘we’ invent? In other words, could legal fictions form one pillar of an anarchist legal theory? Perhaps most importantly, how could an anarchist thinking of law inform both the struggles against and the apathy towards the injustices of neoliberal and biopolitical governance?

This stream invites you to think and feel with, around, beyond and, if you wish, against anarchism(s) in relation to law or against law in relation to anarchism(s); to express and to sublate, to produce and be creative in the face of its inherent tensions.

Contact: Gilbert Leung,

The Law as Invasive Species: Why and When do Legal Rules Hurt rather than Help a Garden of Justice?

Convener: Megan McDermott

As a society, we have become conditioned to call upon legislators and the court system to resolve society’s pressing issues. There is no doubt that the law has its place. Yet too often, for situations that require a multi-disciplinary approach, the introduction of legal rules is extremely disruptive to the societal ecosystem. For example, on the criminal side, we rely heavily on criminal law to address the complex issue of drug use and addiction; on the civil side, reliance on family law and uninformed judges may distort parents’ incentives and undermine the well-being of children.

These problems are not always without solutions. But too often, we see that stakeholders in the legal system are reluctant to loosen their grip once certain issues have been placed within their jurisdiction. This may be due to any number of factors, ranging from self-aggrandization to institutional inertia to the simple realities of line-item budgeting. Over and over again, we see that once unleashed, legal rules crowd out promising grassroots efforts and kill off effective multi-disciplinary approaches.

This panel will focus on major contemporary issues that call for multidisciplinary approaches (e.g., human trafficking, bullying, political speech, genomics, the status of embryos, etc.). As we who tend gardens of justice look for solutions to these problems, we need to view legal rules as a risky invasive species that could completely subsume our garden. We’ll discuss whether it’s possible ex ante to have a full understanding of what legal rules will do to our garden, as well as the steps necessary to plan and monitor these effects once legal rules have taken root. Is it possible to predict the impact and have a plan in place to minimize it? Is it possible to eradicate legal rules quickly if we see that they are actually destroying our garden?

Contact: Megan McDermott,

Critique and the Crisis of the “European” Humanities

Convener: Can Oztas (Birkbeck College)

The metaphor of ‘gardens of justice’ in the CLC call for papers refers to French and English gardens, which are orderly, well-kept, intriguing, and which invite one to take a stroll, read a book in; and then unthreatening Roman gardens with history that enriches one without being troubled by strangeness. However, with the change of geography, and a move beyond European examples the imagination of the possibility of justice moves beyond the purview of law. The Japanese gardens are made not for this world (they are for meditation) and limit one’s freedom (not for movement); then there is reference to zoological gardens where a proper sense of justice (whatever it means …) does not exist. And finally, after rather limited horticultural and zoological wanderings, one reaches the ‘jungle’ outside the ‘Gardens of Law’.

Mills developing on the concept of Fanon made a similar comparison using the concept of gardens, but in an opposite way: “The non-European state of nature is thus actual, a wild and racialised place that was originally characterised as cursed with theological blight as well, an unholy land. The European state of nature, by contrast, is either hypothetical or if actual generally a tamer affair, a kind of garden gone to seed, which may need some clipping but is already partially domesticated and just requires a few modifications to be appropriately transformed — a testimony to the superior moral characteristics of this space and its inhabitants”. (Mills, The Racial Contract, 1997)

Whatever else we might think about the metaphor of gardens of justice, it does rehearse a familiar Eurocentric and orientalist gaze, which places Europe’s others outside the law, and beyond the familiar. Gardens and gardening is a powerful metaphor of modern colonialism associated with John Locke’s privileging of certain modes of cultivation. This putatively validated European conquests and the appropriation of land. Culture, cultivation, the city, civility are deployed interchangeably to constitute the Euro-American nomos. Debates around culture, multiculturalism, racialised exclusion, and political-theologies continue to be animated by oriental logics.

This stream would like to organise discussions around the following two broad themes: (1) Rethink the ambit of critique and how it is associated with Europe Colonising itself: How was colonialism born in Europe, then exported to the rest of the world, and brought back to Europe today? What modes of critique are called for in this time of crisis, resistance, and revolution? What are the modalities of “the constituent other” for national legal regimes in Europe or at the European Union level? (2) The problem of universality and human rights: The fact that there are “others” in society, politics or law is not news. What are the mechanisms, techniques and procedures of their exclusion and the role of inclusionary mechanisms? What are the racialised limits of the reach of humanity in constructing the individual/self and in questioning the principles of freedom (autonomy) and universality? How do universal and inclusionary principles, such as human rights, humanitarian law, etc. at the same time exclude the other?

Contact: Can Oztas,

Vulnerability: Is There a Choice?

Convenors: Dr Sharron FitzGerald (University of Hull) & Dr Andreja Zevnik (University of Manchester)

‘Neoliberalism solves its problems by moving them around geopolitically’

David Harvey (2005).

This stream aims to create a space for dialogue about the issues that are pertinent to current geopolitical, neoliberal and socio-economic issues. We invite papers from all disciplines to address the concept of vulnerability as an embodied experience but also as a material and discursive practice. We call for papers that address how governments invoke discourses of vulnerability and risk in their responses to the current global economic crisis. To give an example of our thinking on this issue, this process comes into sharp relief in how government actors instrumentalise national vulnerability to justify a range of measures that have lead to millions of people experiencing real disempowerment, hardship and marginalisation. Furthermore, we see discourses of vulnerability as a racialised and gendered processes. Notable in this context is how global financial institutions have turned their regulatory “gaze” onto the bodies and behaviours of geospecific nations. In typical neoliberal fashion, those countries deemed to be profligate and reckless in managing their finances must be made governable and fiscally responsible citizens. Therefore, in this context it becomes possible to interpret discourses of vulnerability as tactics that legitimise a range of regulatory measures intended to protect the global economy at the expense of vast swathes of the world’s population.

Notwithstanding this reality, we see discourses of vulnerability as a space of possibility and potentiality, a position from where a new life, another way of being in the world, a new form or gathering or a new resistance is possible. In the spirit of critical dialogue, we are open to a variety of perspectives on this issue.

Contact: /

An open paper stream will also be organised by Matilda Arvidsson (Juridicum, Lunds universitet, contact

For further enquiries contact Leif Dahlberg: dahlberg(at)
Conference website:


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