Legal and Socio-Legal Feminist Scholars From Around the World Confront the Nation State

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Having just returned from several weeks visiting at the AHRC Research Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality, I offered to guest blog about the recently hosted conference ‘Up Against the Nation-States of Feminist Legal Theory’.

The conference was held from 30 June – 1 July at Kent University in Canterbury.   The conference included an”equality stream”that was co-sponsored by the Keele Law School and the British Academy and Emory University Network on Key Concepts in Feminist Legal Theory.

It was a wonderful, stimulating, and packed two days.   The 80 conference participants were drawn from Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Uganda, the U.K., and the U.S.   The wide range of legal traditions and legal philosophies led to a diverse range of topics, methods, and approaches at each of the panels.    

Given that the overarching theme of the conference included reflecting on the nation state, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the recurring themes of many panels included the damaging effects of neoliberalism on women’s equality, the challenges of international law and the potential dangers of the imposition of international norms, and the relationship between countries of the north and south.   Participants continued conversations about the construction of gender and heteronormativity; embraced heated discussions about the ‘goodness’, ‘usefulness’ and power of the state; and contested conceptions of social and political citizenship and democracy.

There were three plenary talks, given by Margaret Davies, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, and Ratna Kapur.   Margaret’s talk focused on an explication of two modalities of law – which she depicted spatially as the vertical and the horizontal.   Margaret used these modalities to argue that law in its horizontal form might be used to transgress the modernist, and legal positivist view of law.   Ziba focused on the emergence of Islamic feminism and located her discussion within the context of the ‘war on terror’.   Ratna’s talk, situated within postcolonial feminism, contested the linearity of law’s construction and suggested more imaginative approaches to legal framing.

The conference provided a rich site for discussion and questions, particularly among legal and socio-legal feminists from different continents.   Next year, around the same time, the Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality will host another conference,”Gender Unbound”.   If you haven’t had a chance to visit at the Centre before, this would be an ideal time to do so.

You can find more information about the Centre LGS, including the ‘nation-states’ conference program and the call for ‘Gender Unbound’ here.  

The Centre LGS is a partnership between the universities of Kent, Keele, and Westminster, whose aim is to develop interdisciplinary, critical perspectives on law, gender and sexuality.   They have a wonderful visiting scholar scheme that allows visitors to spend some time in the UK, and to meet with many of the feminists associated with those universities.   You can check that out here.  

-Kim Brooks

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