… can be found here incorporating last minute changes and keynote by our advisory board member, James Leach:
The link for registration for the January concluding conference is live.
Please register ideally by 10 December for purpose of planning.
Please note that we have a venue change. The event is now hosted and supported by Dr Bernard Keenan of Birkbeck Law School in observance with the University and College Union support of the boycott of all events held at the University of London Senate House, Warburg Institute and Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in solidarity with outsourced cleaning and security staff. The event was originally scheduled to take place at the Warburg Institute. More info can be found here: https://iwgb.org.uk/boycottsenatehouse We thank Bernard for his help.
The full programme and the abstracts can be found here:
In the activities of the legal materiality network we have been investigating how particular materials are enlisted within and by law, and their relationships with matters of concern to law. This requires distinguishing between materials and matters, and we have sought to develop working definitions of these terms. Materials may be physical objects, but they also may be intangible, such as techniques (forms and genres) or modes of representation (media). Legal materials are materials that have been enlisted in the making of legal meaning. Meanwhile, matters are problematisations, following Foucault: ‘the set of discursive or nondiscursive practices that makes something enter into the play of the true and false, and constitutes it as an object for thought’. If a matter is transformed into a legal matter through the attribution of legal difference, then it becomes a matter of concern to law.
Building on these definitions, we contend that:
- Without legal materials, legal matters are not intelligible to law.
- Materials are only legal materials insofar as they contribute to the making of legal meaning. The attribute ‘legal’ is not fixed or predermined.
- Legal materials do not always matter. They may be dormant or untimely, and may come to matter again.
Our forthcoming edited collection in the journal Law Text Culture experiments with these working definitions and approach. In the meantime, here is one illustration of thinking about a particular material in this way:
Material: sheep. I begin from a sheep that was offered to a family in the village of Gardez, Afghanistan in the late morning of 8 April 2010. The sheep was delivered by Afghan soldiers, who knelt on it while an Afghan Army mullah began praying as part of an offer of sacrifice. The father of the family intervened, and later recounted to a foreign journalist (present at the request of the family) that the practice was an ‘ancient Afghan ritual’ requesting forgiveness that was difficult to refuse. Also present at the offering was Admiral William McRaven, commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), who entered the family’s house and formally apologised, admitting that his soldiers were responsible for the deaths of their family members. Two pregnant women and at least three other civilians were killed in the village during a ‘night raid’ carried out by JSOC in February earlier that year. Shortly after, NATO suggested they had been the victims of an honour killing in a statement circulated to reporters, claiming that the joint force ‘found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed.’
As a legal material, the sheep has multiple valences: among them, as an acknowledgement of wrongdoing according to ‘ancient Afghan ritual’ practice (as described by the individual receiving the sheep), and as an acknowledgement of a mistake by a foreign military in the theatre of armed conflict. The sheep was reportedly supplemented with a payment of $30,000. Is this sheep a legal material, together with the payment? If so, are they (presumed to be) similar kinds of legal materials in this instance, and if so, according to the logic of what jurisdiction? Under what conditions are they enlisted by law? And according to what law? It may be that if the Pashtun ‘ritual’ of nanawatai was considered to be the law governing the scene that unfolded in Gardez from the perspective of the grieving family, and if the family elder felt obliged to accept this felicitous performance of that legal or normative obligation, the sheep would in fact be a ‘legal material’ of nanawatai under the broader ‘legal matter’ of culpability.
Yet whether this is in fact the actual ‘legal matter’ at stake would require more knowledge of the contemporary practice of nanawatai in this region of Afghanistan, and perhaps this particular individual’s view who described it as an ‘ancient Afghan ritual’. Without understanding customary Afghan law nor Pashtun or Dari practices, such a reading runs up against the boundaries of what can be claimed about the legal meaning of this particular practice. Another ‘legal matter’ is a Western legal conception of evidence: the family invited a foreign correspondant and photographer to document the event, and possibly with the impression that an image would be perceived as more credible than direct witness testimony within the optic of a Western conception of reliability. Without legal materials, legal matters are not intelligible to law. Without capturing the image of the sheep, rendering the event durable (in time) and capable of circulation and filing (as evidence), all we have is witness testimony, a legal material that is increasingly regarded as insufficiently reliable, and to be supplemented by new technologically driven forms of evidence.
The sheep may or may not be a ‘legal material’ depending on whether it is interpellated or conscripted by juridical forms. Materials are only legal materials insofar as they contribute to the making of legal meaning. Perhaps my original interest in the sheep as the legal material is because it appeared so clearly as a glaring attempt to bridge distinct legal cosmologies – an effort to translate between seemingly incommensurate normative worlds, where a village could be celebrating an important family event within a broader context of a ‘global war on terror’, and a state actor could attempt a form of redress that appears as a misfire, a miscomprehension, exceedingly inadequate. And yet it reveals something telling about the legal form and the drawing of legal difference: law establishes relations of equivalence through technologies of calculation.
A foreign military power felt it could redress a wrong, harm, or error through the transfer of a non-human body. The offering of the sheep is the physical dimension of McRaven’s apology and admission of culpability for the actions of troops under his command. The image of the sheep and the image of McRaven’s presence above, documented at the request of the family, might serve as ‘legal materials’ if they are used as evidence in a legal process – but in what forum for accountability?
Given that the night raid took place in the context of an armed conflict of an international nature, international humanitarian law would also govern the conduct of the state parties to the conflict – in this instance, the US and Afghan forces carrying out the raid – with principles including proportionality, necessity, and distinction (the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants). In this framing the Gardez villagers killed in the raid would not have been lawfully targetable, and their deaths are civilian casualties. There is no clear forum of criminal accountability (a ‘legal matter’) for these arguable breaches of international humanitarian law unless there were to be domestic trials for those responsible for operational decision making before US military courts, or if Afghanistan would appear as a situation before the International Criminal Court (with attendant questions of jurisdiction and admissibility). Legal materials do not always matter. The sheep might become a piece of evidence, a trace of an admission of culpability, if a case were to emerge in one of these forums. But in the absence of active cases (despite investigations carried out by the United Nations and the Afghan government), one might ask what other material traces exist that suggest state negligence and noncompliance with legal obligations.
… identifying other materials. If the sheep may be a dormant material for now, perhaps there are other traces of this ‘legal matter’ that appears increasingly as a crime. International humanitarian law seems metaphysical and remote in such contexts, where its manifestation is largely through forms of inscription and recording devices, such as reports concerning state breaches of these obligations enshrined in international treaties, and more recently through popular media platforms. The exercise of thinking of the sheep as a ‘legal material’ brings other materials into view, such as a freedom of information act request to the US Department of Defense to provide an account of the US internal investigation into the deaths in Gardez. Although the government response was largely redacted, the conclusions offer some insights into how the state defense brings together the legal material – the rifle – in a completely decontextualised manner, whereby the rifle holder in a remote area of Afghanistan is always already suspect: ‘the investigation concluded that the U.S. forces were justified in shooting him, as well as his cousin Mohammed Saranwal Zahir, the local prosecutor. The investigators found that the men had showed “hostile intent” because they were armed with rifles.’ An investigation into legal materiality that departed from the body of the sheep would then turn to documents, files, the cathected ‘legal material’ of the rifle, and (human) bodies, tracing their relationships with different jurisdictions and juridical priorities.
 Michel Foucault, ʻThe Concern for Truthʼ, in Politics, Philosophy, Culture (London: Routledge, 1988), 257.
 This account is drawn from Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars: The world is a battlefield (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2013). It also appears in his film bearing the same name. The images above were shot by a foreign photographer accompanying a foreign journalist; both sought to document the event on behalf of the family as evidence that it had occurred.
 One wonders how the military settled upon this ‘equivalence’, and the possible role of the US ‘Human Terrain System’, which sought to embed social scientific knowledge in circumstances of armed conflict; see Foreign Affairs and Inside Higher Ed.
 See for example the recent documentary Truth Detectives, which claims that ‘[e]quipped with just a cell phone camera, civilians today can call for justice. Networking through social networks makes the whole world witnesses – even to war crimes.’
Please see the flyer below for details
Date: 9 – 10 January 2020
Place: Warburg Institute, Woburn Place, London, UK
Call closes: 18 August 2019
Proposal format: 500 words maximum
Over the last two years, the AHRC Legal Materiality Research Network has brought together cross-disciplinary scholars who have examined law’s relation to its constitutive materials. Network members analysed and discussed the meaning of matters, materials and materiality as they specifically relate to law. What is a legal matter, what is material in and to law, and how do certain materials turn an issue into a legal matter? Such inquiries in turn lead to the question of legal ontology: what is ‘legal’ rather than a- or non-legal? These theoretical and methodological considerations are relevant to many subfields of legal scholarship, as well as to scholars in other disciplines who study different manifestations of law.
The research network’s concluding conference brings together scholars whose works examine law’s diverse materials and who engage with legal materiality from aesthetic, ethnographic, historical, rhetorical and philosophical perspectives. We invite contributions in the form of a paper or other innovative formats, particularly ones that:
– trace the making of a legal matter through legal materials: how do certain materials (things, media, image, sound, data, building, room, oral evidence…) become meaningful to law?
– offer theoretical reflections on law as/in ‘objects’: seeing and reading law metaphorically as/in a physical object
-interrogate an a- or non-human legal form, language and legal practice
– examine the specific relations between law’s physical and intangible materials and its language (textual or otherwise).
This is not an exclusive list of possible topics of contributions. We welcome contributions from outside traditional legal scholarship, such as anthropology, art, history, literature, media studies, music, philosophy, political theory, and science studies, that treat law as their site of inquiry.
Please submit your proposal of no more than 500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 18 August 2019.
We will try to contribute as much and equitably as possible towards travel and accommodation costs of the selected contributors (approximately 8-10).
The Legal Materiality Research Network is a two-year (January 2018 – January 2020) project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and co-convened by Dr Hyo Yoon Kang and Dr Sara Kendall, Kent Law School, University of Kent, UK. The international cross-disciplinary research network has sought to formulate an understanding of materiality that takes into account the specific discursive and practical contexts of different legalities and the making of law. Please see the project webpage for more information and past events: legalmateriality.wordpress.com
The research network’s final conference will take place from 9-10 January, 2020 at the Warburg Institute, University of London. A call for papers will be issued soon – please save the date!
We have put together a stream of exciting papers that explores the effects of legal materials, techniques and visibilities at the upcoming annual Law, Culture and the Humanities conference in Ottawa. In the previous years’ meetings, we had explored legal materialist approaches in a paper panel and a roundtable. This March, we look forward to continuing the conversation in different areas of legal scholarship of the LCH community.
Here are the abstracts of the stream:
Panel 1: Legal materiality – part 1
Chair: Genevieve Painter
i) Hyo Yoon Kang and Sara Kendall: “Legal Materiality”
In this presentation we reflect on developing legal materiality as an approach in legal scholarship, which we have explored in the last two years at the ASLCH. Legal materiality recognises law as both a hermeneutic and a material phenomenon: as uniquely engaged with issues of writing, reading, interpretation and judgment, yet also as mediated by and produced through material techniques and practices. It is attuned to the ways in which materials come to be enlisted as ‘matters of concern’ for law: that is, how the interpretive and text-based practices of law are informed and mediated by material conditions. Rather than taking ‘law’ as a premise, it interrogates the contribution of materials and things to the making of legal meaning. We illustrate this approach in case studies drawn from intellectual property and international law.
ii) Zachary Reyna: “Two Models of Contracting and their Implications for Legal Materialists”
Contracting has been a central device in modern political and legal theory since at least Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes. This paper explores the legal concept of contracting through two of its most profound and original thinkers: Thomas Hobbes and the less-known Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The goal is to use these two thinkers to uncover two models for thinking about the meaning of legal materiality—a topic that has generated increased interest in recent years. The paper argues that Hobbes and Sacher-Masoch offer two divergent accounts of the contract that have important consequences for how we think about legal materiality. Hobbes deploys the contract as a corrective to fix—through means of “artifice”—a lack in the world as it is given to us. Legal materialists have drawn on this model both to call us to include and re-vitalize the stuff left outside the space opened by this contact and alternatively to focus on the specifically legal hermeneutic practices that govern and produce legal forms within this space. In contrast, Sacher-Masoch’s contracts are aimed at disclosing “the ontological intimacy between language and matter.” Sacher-Masoch achieves this through various contractual devices of drawing together (con-trahere): drafting a contract, pen strokes, whip strokes, draft animals, contracting flesh, and storytelling. Ultimately, while Sacher-Masoch encourages legal materialists to focus on the matters of law conventionally left out of the Hobbesian model, he is simultaneously critical of any naïve appeal to simply let these matters “speak for themselves.” For Sacher-Masoch, the legal device of contracting is a crucial—and underthought—process whereby matter comes to matter.
iii) James Martel: “’God is Change’: anarchist prophecy, and radical ways of seeing in The Parable of the Sower.”
This paper is about anarchist forms of prophecy. My argument is that archist prophets claim to have special sight and see things that no one else sees; they assert the truth of invisible things like heaven and the law, things which they insist are more tangible and real than reality itself. Anarchist prophets, on the other hand, simply point out what we already know but don’t want to acknowledge; the non existence of the very things that archist prophets claim to be able to see. In this way anarchist prophets don’t have special sight but the same sight as everyone else. What they do is to get others to acknowledge what they are seeing (that is, to stop seeing things that aren’t there). I will make this argument based on a reading of science fiction novel by Octavia Butler called “The Parable of the Sower” where the main character is a prophet named Lauren Olamina. Lauren creates an entirely new religion in a time of the total breakdown of US society (in ways that are terrifyingly plausible these days). She fights all the false hopes of being rescued by the state (which is totally and hopelessly corrupt and violent) or the law (which is effectively nonexistent except for the very rich) and instead embraces change and human agency, two things that archist forms of seeing try to undermine and supersede.
Panel 2: Legal materiality – part 2
Chair: James Martel
i) Jill Stauffer: “You people talk from paper”: Indigeneous law, western legalism, and the cultural variability of law’s materials.
A First Nations elder from the Yukon, criticizing a group of scientists at a joint conference of scientists and indigenous persons involved in environmental issues facing the polar and sub-polar regions of Canada, said this: “You people talk from paper. Me, I want to talk from Grandpa.” When Mrs. Annie Ned says this, she’s not only voicing a criticism of how western knowledge is conveyed but of how those who are embedded in its ways learn to think and listen. They think indigenous stories are based in myth but that western legalisms are not. They look for universal truths, controlled experiments, think data answers every question. They may not see that it is fully possible to have a deep understanding of how the world works that emerges differently. And so they tend to listen to an oral narrative in order to turn it into a text that can then be read like any other text. But that is exactly the right way to never understand. In this talk I’ll use Mrs. Ned’s observation to think about the ways settler colonial courts fail to hear indigenous claims about land and justice. To do this, I’ll consider the materiality of “talking from paper” alongside assertions that a song, a story, a ceremonial robe, or a totem pole, could be law or legal title rather than evidence of those things.
ii) Genevieve Painter: “Law, History, and Things”
The ‘law and …’ field of legal scholarship verges on consensus about the co-constitution between law and nearly everything else. Co-constitution raises questions about how to differentiate law from other things. The contemporary turn from words towards the material brings fresh perspective on these questions by suggesting that law’s differentiation is fabricated through materiality. This project concerns how material techniques differentiate law, how material techniques differentiate history, and how these processes may produce ideas of ‘law’ and ‘history’ as distinct and separate. Inspired by the Legal Objects Workshop, I draw on work in which I examine the material, archival, and museum techniques that fabricate the difference of a thing not commonly understood by Western law as law. My focus is an object created in Haida Gwaii in the late nineteenth century and now displayed in the British Museum. I consider how jurisdictional choices are embedded in the fabrication of this thing’s difference. I juxtapose the analysis of this thing-that-is-not-law with another thing-that-is-not-law, a photograph from the official archives of an international organization. Contemporary historians of law spend their times in archives taking photographs (rather than reading or taking notes), meaning that the raw material of history has become photographs of documents. While the historian’s role as just one more actors in a long chain of archivists constructing an archive has been explored in the archival turn, legal scholars have paid less attention to the action of photography as a material practice. I hope to juxtapose the apparent ‘thing-ness’ of a sculpture in the British Museum with the apparent ‘non-thing-ness’ of a photograph, its apparent status as pure representation, to see if that can tell us anything about what legal historians do when they trace the line between law and history.
iii) Daniela Gandorfer: “Law of Life Writing”
Autobiography is commonly understood as a literary genre that grants an individual the right to narrate a life. As such, the genre – deeply embedded in Eurocentric ideas of subjectivity, self-awareness and the Cartesian body/mind dualism – serves as framing device which legitimately cuts out a life from a continuum, and renders its remainder objects, plot, space, or prey. Critical post-humanist and neo-materialist theories have exposed the shortcomings of the genre and proposed a shift to life writing, which adumbrates a different subject – multiple, materially embedded, embodied and relational.
Life writing, however, does not only pertain to the representational sphere, but becomes inscribed in and on the level of matter – and with it its anthropocentric, liberal and neo-humanist implications. Scientific breakthroughs in biotechnology, genetics, synthetic biology, and computer technology altered our conception of what life is and provide legal tools to invent or efface life forms. This urges us to address the right to life, as well as the right to write and narrate life on a molecular level. Life – actually and legally – seems to come after the cut.
In my talk I aim to look closer at how law performs these ontological surgeries (Jasanoff) as Cartesian cuts (Barad) that sharply separate legal subject from object, commodity, and property. Are there alternative ways of thinking the right to life, apart from the Cartesian cut and its anthropocentric legacy? Can law narrate life symbiotically, rather than autobiographically? And if so, who or what can have a right to life?
Panel 3: Legal materiality – part 3
Art, Law, Materialism: A Discussion on Objects, Aesthetics and the Juridical
Chair: Sara Kendall
Engaging with what has been termed the recent ‘affective turn’ in the social sciences and humanities, this discussion seeks to unravel some of the ways in which objects and materiality, affect, determine and produce laws and aesthetics – and the juridical production of matter and art, in turn. How have artists been engaging with the developing philosophies of speculative realism, object-oriented-ontology (OOO) and new materialisms and how can their works inform understandings of the ethico-juridical? What role does the object play in law? Is materialism the same as aesthetics, following from Harman’s argument that aesthetics is the basis of all philosophy? What role does art play in law’s materiality? What are the affective practices of artists and lawyers? And what potential does a material understanding of art/law hold for the futures of legal theory?
Swastee Ranjan (University of Sussex), Connal Parsley (University of Kent) and Lucy Finchett-Maddock (University of Sussex), will be discussing their own research on affect, aesthetics, non-representational theory, and entropy in relation to the art, law and materiality.
 Patricia Ticineto Clough, Jean Halley (eds.), The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, Duke University Press, 2007; Paul Hoggett, Simon Thompson (eds.), Politics and the Emotions: The Affective Turn in Contemporary Political Studies, Bloomsbury, 2012.
 Harman, Graham, Object-Oriented-Ontology: A New Theory of Everything, Penguin, 2018.
i) Swastee Ranjan: “Object’s Law – On affective traces that constitute legal meaning”
This paper emerges at the intersection of legal aesthetics and legal materiality wherein it seeks to understand and develop the juridical role of ‘physical’ things in constituting our normative environment. The argument follows that physical objects generate and constitute legal meaning that are not often mapped within the traditional understandings of law, instead they appear as fleeting trails of affective resonances. Inspired by the recent scholarship on new materialism and object-oriented ontologies, this paper seeks to extend the category of legal aesthetics to not only include the physicality of things and argue for their ability to generate normative values but also suggest an expansive understanding of aesthetic that is construed both in representational and non-representational terms. This paper works to expand the nature of legal pluralism by drawing on materiality and affect as significant registers through which legal meaning is constituted. Emerging out of my ongoing doctoral research, in this paper, I will use illustrations from the built environment of Delhi, to substantiate the relationship between affect, aesthetics and materiality and seek to show that law is both constitutive of and constituted through them.
ii) Lucy Finchett-Maddock: “A Theory of Art/Law”
This piece seeks to account for an increased interest in the intersection of art and law within legal thinking, activism, and artistic practice, arguing there to exist the phenomena and movement of ‘Art/Law’. Art/Law is the coming together of theory and practice in legal and political aesthetics, understood as a practice, (im)materially performed. It is seen as a natural consequence of thinking law and resistance in terms of space and time, accounting for a turn towards the visual, practical, and the role of affect, within ways of knowing. Art/law is a symptom of the end of art and end of law, synchronically rendered. Divisions between legal and aesthetic form have been well rehearsed within legal aesthetics scholarship, from law and literature, to critical legal studies’ work with images, text and performativity, and now law’s Anthropocene. Art/Law as a practice, however, is argued as an emergent onto-epistemic-ethics of necessity, a movement of seeing, being and knowing in response to the advancement of spectacle. It is the simultaneous reunion of law, art and resistance as one, breaking down the institutional artifice of art worlds and law worlds, offering a form of ‘resistant (in)formalism’, that accounts for matter and change. It is an inclusion of the uncertain and the disordered, as an opening of justice. This resistant (in)formalism describes the role of form, audience and practice within property, legal and aesthetic establishment, offering a countering of separatism at the end of art and the end of law, through a praxeology of Art/Law in seeing, thinking and action.
iii) Connal Parsley: “Contemporary Art / Towards a Material Praxis of Jurisprudence
This paper will think through some examples of contemporary art that address legal thematics in order to take seriously the knowledge about law that they contain. Despite repeated aesthetic and then materialist moves in critical legal studies away from the positivist understanding law as its normative or conceptual content, little ground has been made in diminishing the aura around law as a privileged textual object. Law remains conceptually presupposed even and especially by many apparently materialist approaches, which insist on locating and nominalising law. This paper will distance itself from this preoccupation with the pluralisation and proliferation of law and normativity, asking instead after the praxis and generation of knowledge about law. Key currents in contemporary art—particularly those drawing on post-aesthetic and post-autonomous practice—move past the social and cultural representation of law, as well as the concern with law’s aesthetic life and method of taking purchase on its subjects. The examples considered will ask what is at stake in taking legal forms, institutions and habits as art’s material; whether such art works can take the double step beyond both the objectification of law, and a mere provocation to see law “critically”; and whether we can understand the post-autonomous impulse in law art as a collapse between the “thought of law “and the “work of law” (for example, in self-consciously instituting relations). What emerges is the figure—perhaps impossible in both the positivist and “critical” legal traditions—of a material jurisprudential praxis that reconciles the subject of thought with its object.
On 15 June, the Legal Materiality Network will host an encounter between legal scholars working in the field of intellectual property and scholars from diverse disciplines (anthropology, international relations, philosophy and law) who work on international legal issues. This small workshop is based on the premise that critical scholars of intellectual property (including patent and copyright) have had the opportunity for a more sustained engagement with questions of law’s matters and material due to the nature of the objects they engage with.
Legal materiality differentiates between matters – physical elements – and materials, defining materials as attributes or properties that are enlisted in social relations or acts of interpretation. Materiality can be understood as mattering (as a verb), as in to matter and to acquire meaning and significance. As we define it for the purposes of the workshop, legal materiality is concerned with how it is that matters (as a noun) come to matter (as a verb) for law, and how law as a field produces meaning and significance.