in memory of alan hunt
I never had the pleasure of meeting Alan Hunt, though I suppose that is hardly a necessary condition to be influenced by someone’s work. Alan’s constitutive theory of law formed and continues to form a cornerstone of how I think about law and how it shapes our reality.
However, I didn’t always appreciate his work as much as I have come to. His influence came about inadvertently through an attempt to critique his work.
It was in the very early, heady days of my doctoral study that I read Foucault and Law (1986). I was only just becoming more familiar with Foucault, as well as divergent readings of how Foucault deals with law. I remember vehemently disagreeing with Hunt and Wickham’s approach and marching into a supervision session with Alan’s long-time friend, Peter Fitzpatrick, and proceeded to announce my dissatisfaction. Peter said something like “that’s astonishing… I wonder who published it,” which prompted me to notice that it was none other than Peter himself who had published Foucault and Law.
This brief and minor but nonetheless disarming exchange stands out in my mind because it taught me something about scholarship and friendship. In my early attempt to become an academic, in those moments when research felt like grasping onto anything that made sense, I would often read in a binary way, dismiss the authors I didn’t agree with, and define my own emerging academic identity in opposition to them.
In retrospect, I suppose it was a way of staking out a space for myself to form my own opinions, but it was also a way of engaging that in many respects undermined the very purpose of scholarship. Inadvertently I had turned it into a kind of zero-sum game, which in turn nearly paralysed my own ability to think and write.
While it seems so simple and obvious, it was learning that Alan and Peter were friends in spite of disagreement that helped me realise that I would need to think about critique in a much more generous and nuanced way. On returning to Alan’s work again, I found the key elements and provocations of a theory that would prove to be incredibly generative in my research, even if we would have disagreed on whether and how to relate this to Foucault – as if this really matters at all.
This anecdote feels important in the context of increasingly neoliberal higher education and individualising academic cultures that encourage and reward self-aggrandizement. In Alan Hunt’s terms, we might think of the university as an “institutional ensemble and set of practices and norms that function to secure social reproduction despite the unstable and contradictory character of capitalist relations.” In addition to the material conditions and inequalities that these structures create, the greatest risk may be the one they pose to our identity, subjectivity and the ways in which we relate to one another as scholars and people. Regulation, as Alan wrote, ‘involves the suppression, marginalization, or repudiation of alternative ways of being, while ‘encouraging’ other realities’, and indeed even creating those realities. But we can also resist this regulatory force and forge our own relations, and to this end I’m very grateful for Alan Hunt’s influence.