Report on “Working From the World Up” Conference

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Yesterday was the second and final day of the conference”Working From the World Up: Equality’s Future”(subtitled”A New Legal Realism Conference Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project”).   The conference is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Law School, the Institute for Legal Studies, the Feminism and Legal Theory Project at Emory University and the Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society.  

Here’s a run-down from Madison, Wisconsin of some of the conference events:

On the first night of the conference, Patricia William (Columbia) gave a thought-provoking keynote address.   She critiqued the ways that narratives about race and gender are playing out in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.   Scientific advances may reveal that biological differences between and among races – and between men and women – are far less significant than previously thought, but these differences have taken on tremendous unspoken (and sometimes spoken) meaning in the campaign.   Williams highlighted the dissonance between high-minded rhetoric that race and gender”don’t matter”and a retrenchment of racism and sexism in society.   Her presentation was insightful, inspiring and sophisticated.

In the introduction to the keynote, Victoria Nourse (Wisconsin, Emory) called Patricia Williams the”poet laureate”of law.   To me, Williams is beyond laureate.   She’s a rock star.   A rock star at a conference of rock stars (and a few of us fans, too).

Saturday morning’s panels included one on”International Feminism.”

•  Catherine O’Rourke (University of Ulster) spoke about women’s complex roles in community-based restorative justice projects, and how re-emergence of state-based policing and justice organizations in Northern Ireland could diminish women’s influence in mainstream politics.

•  Asifa Quaraishi (Wisconsin) spoke on”Western Advocacy for Muslim Women.”   She highlighted a small but growing number of Muslim women who seriously engage in the study of Islamic law to achieve a more nuanced understanding of what the law actually requires about women’s clothing, dress and headscarf. Quaraishi described how wearing a headscarf is seen by Muslims and non-Muslims alike something more than personal choice.   Not wearing a veil opens the Islamic scholar to the critique by Muslims that she is not pious.   Wearing the veil opens the same scholar to the critique by non-Muslim feminists and other Westerners that she is oppressed.  

•  Lucie White’s (Harvard) topic was”Making Rights Real: Reclaiming Human Rights to Challenge Global Poverty.”   In keeping with the conference’s”New Legal Realism”emphasis on how law functions in everyday life, White focused on trying to define”the ground.”   She asked how can we go from looking, for examples, at a particular ill individual who is suffering in a developing country to thinking about that person as a political actor (presumably in order to articulate a legal claim for state intervention in, say, an inadequate health care system).

More later when I have a better internet connection.

-Bridget Crawford

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