Law’s materials are plural and diverse, including texts, images, sounds, bodies, gestures, rituals, and architectures, such as the space of the courtroom. Despite the importance of understanding law beyond its textual and interpretive forms, there has been limited legal scholarship addressing its material dimensions. Much of this work occurs in other disciplines, such as media studies, anthropology, literature, and sociology, yet opportunities for these different scholars to learn from one another are rare. Research events are organised around specific themes, and most cater to particular traditions or are focused on a narrow legal or regulatory problem. Questions that cut across research areas and disciplines are conceptually under-explored and are in need of more rigorous and sustained attention.

The Legal Materialities network seeks to fill this gap in scholarship and public engagement by bringing together scholars, artists and concerned publics to advance the study of law as a key form of contemporary governance of persons and things. It will consider how law governs both human and non-human matters. It will reconceptualise and study law as an assemblage of materials, norms, discourses and knowledge practices. Seeking new approaches to make sense of law’s changing materiality, from textuality to diverse matters and media, the network will initiate and sustain conversations leading to enhanced and deeper understandings of how law shapes and regulates forms of life and populations.

Guiding research questions for the network will include:

  • What is the materiality of law? How do texts and interpretive practices relate to objects, bodies and spaces, and what different approaches can we draw upon in order to better understand law’s matters?
  • What are the implications of ‘actor network theory’ and other ‘new materialist’ approaches for legal scholarship? What can these approaches contribute and what are their limitations?
  • How can artistic and political interventions contribute to scholarship on law’s matters, media and materiality? What resources can be drawn from efforts within the humanities, the interpretive social sciences, and artistic communities to better understand new technological developments within and beyond law?

The network aims to establish collaborations across disciplines, drawing connections between the force of law and its physical and virtual manifestations.

Previous exploratory events have led to the realisation of this network. For more details, please see our posts on the  prehistory of the network, workshops enabled by Kent Law School,  in summer 2016 and autumn 2017;
a UC Berkeley colloquium on material compositions of legality enabled by the Townsend Center for Humanities; and
a roundtable on legal materiality at the Annual Meeting of the Law, Culture and Humanities Association 2017.