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Law and Social Sciences Research Network Conference 2012: Call for Papers

The inaugural Law and Social Sciences Research Network (LASSnet) conference was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in 2009. A subsequent conference was held at the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education in Pune in 2010.

These conferences identified a number of priorities for the research, study and practice of law in South Asia. A key concern was to interrogate how law is conventionally taught, practiced, and researched as an autonomous and selfsufficient phenomenon. Those who regard law as autonomous believe it is capable of giving an account of itself. Law teachers, legal scholars, practitioners, and judges tend to treat the law as a discipline that can furnish principles to decide 'hard cases' by drawing on internal logics of consistency and coherence, with inbuilt protocols for determining legislative intent, fair procedures, and natural justice ensuring access to courts.

What is 'law', properly so called, also tends to be narrowly conceived as what judges, legislators, or the police 'do' ignoring the diffuse structures of power and governance, and practices of regulation, normalization, and biopolitics that penetrate bodies and condition behavior.

The notion that law is autonomous (legal formalism or legal positivism) has been subjected to sustained challenge over many decades by scholars who draw on social science methodologies. Broadly conceived, these scholars draw on epistemologies and pedagogies from the social sciences in order to explain that law is a social, anthropological, historical, and economic artifact which should be understood and studied as such. In South Asia, the research, teaching and practice of law that draws on the social sciences has been relegated to the margins.

LASS was constituted to consolidate the work done so far, to map the field of Law and Social Sciences in South Asia, and to build scholarly bridges between disciplines across the region. Its objective is to begin conversations, develop research, and create an archive of legal praxis that draws on the social sciences. In doing this, LASS seeks to be innovative in its deployment of social science methodologies, challenging existing sociolegal approaches that have almost exclusively focused on revealing hidden social determinants of the legal.

LASS calls into question this social constructivist approach. It promotes research that examines how specific practices and relations of knowledge and power are constituted. If law a site where power/knowledge is constituted or exercised, how do we know this? If law is not the only site, then what sustains economic and political connections as seemingly disparate as the splicing of a gene and the growing of rice in a rural village? What research methods can be drawn from the social sciences to identify and explain the link between knowledge production, techniques of government, and the ever transforming multiple ways of being in the world?

Alongside these general priorities and questions which LASS has grappled with we also recognise that Sri Lankan law, society, and economy gives rise to specific questions and problems. These are not unique to Sri Lanka, and are of wider significance to South Asia, and regions beyond in what is an increasingly globalised world.

Conference Date: 14th - 16th December, 2012

The conference in Sri Lanka seeks to promote research and discussion on a broad list of themes. The panels will be developed by focusing on a particular theme below including comparative discussions across South Asia, or through a combination of themes oriented by the following:

  1. Development Development is seen as the solution to most woes in Sri Lanka, and in other postcolonial, postwar, and newly industrializing economies. Most critiques of development have merely stated that the process is onesided, and that it enables yet more incipient forms of imperialism to emerge. Others have done discourse analyses focused on how development has become discursively and ideologically prominent. We encourage papers that are specifically focused on the particular processes through which 'development' unfolds and the forms of accumulation and dispossession characteristic of neoliberal capitalism.
  2. Land In addition to rights based approaches, we encourage papers that draw from recent debates in Sri Lanka and other South Asian settings about how 'land grabs' for special economic zones, tourism, or major infrastructure projects have impacted on local populations. What are the economic and social formations that promote and resist these patterns of appropriation?
  3. Natural Resources and Mining A key frontier of contemporary conflict is the extraction of natural resources, and the impact on local communities, economies, the environment, and political cultures. As the Indian Supreme Court put it recently in Nandini Sundar & Ors v Chhattisgarh (July, 2011), the extraction of natural resources by local and multinational corporations and the state deploys violence that mirrors the horrors of European colonialism and plunder that Joseph Conrad described in the Congo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. How do social movements, and existing juridical structures resist or facilitate resource extraction? How do we break down the modern binary between the 'natural' and the 'social' to reconceive and democratize the relation between community and the material world?
  4. Trauma, Memory, Witnessing Sri Lanka and numerous other countries grapple with the problem of the 'truths' of the past when seeking to attend to legacies of state and nonstate violence, exile, dispossession, and displacement. Commissions of inquiry challenge the limits of conventional judicial approaches. But all acts of bearing witness grapple with the problem of representation. What forms of witnessing and memory attend to trauma and conscious and unconscious legacies of the past? What are the memory practices of the law itself? Beyond juridical measures, what aesthetic and archival practices of writing, cinema, theatre, and visual arts attend to and breach memorial practices?
  5. The State While many discussions around globalization marginalized the contemporary role of the state and its sovereignty Sri Lanka, like many other countries, exemplifies the persistence and expansion of sovereign power. How does the state proliferate and mutate in the context of development economics, war, and conflict? What are the limits of liberal democratic constitutionalist approaches to the state? What are the limits of liberal democracy? How do the political theologies of sovereignty intersect with religious formations in the postcolonial state?
  6. Struggles for Social Justice How has law engaged with struggles of trade unions, student movements and other constituencies challenging state policies? How does trade union action in contemporary times relate to ideas of the working class and class formation? How do struggles around education relate to broader conceptions of democracy and social welfare?
  7. Nationalism Both Tamil and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism have been the midwives of social and economic disasters in Sri Lanka. Simplistic claims of rights to selfdetermination or federalism do not grapple with the underlying crisis of plural political existence. Nonetheless, subnational selfdetermination, and national sovereignty continue to be asserted by progressive and reactionary political movements as a bulwark against social and political marginalization at the nationstate level and the hegemony of capital, or the power of regional and international powers beyond the level of the nationstate. What are the underlying conditions and reasons for the persistence of nationalism over other forms of political mobilization?
  8. Feminist debates While feminist interventions need to continue to tackle violence against women LASS has consistently promoted approaches beyond analytics of victimization. Papers considering questions of women's labour in special economic zones and as migrant labour; women in war and in a militarized setting; and explorations of forms of women's resistance are especially welcome.
  9. Sexuality what is the impact of religious nationalism on LGBT people? What lessons might Sri Lanka draw from the Indian experience and the advances made through debates on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code or the Nepal Supreme Court decision on recognition of same sex orientation? What are the links between neoliberal capital and emergent forms of sexual citizenship in South Asia?
  10. Subaltern How can we begin a discussion on the ways in which the dominant theories/narratives of the law, the state and capitalism excludes discussion and access to subaltern classes? What has been the varying impact of law on caste structures in South Asia and what processes have over determined law's engagement on caste issues?
  11. Rethinking Civil Society What constitutes civil society and what kind of role is there for civil society in relation to postwar reconciliation in Sri Lanka? What is civil society's relationship to social movements, grass roots networks and public intellectuals? What are the local discourses of reconciliation, how do they engage questions of gender, class, caste and ethnicity, and how do they understand processes of reconciliation elsewhere in the world. How do approaches and critiques of human rights relate to the process of reconciliation? And what impact do interventionist international discourses such as Responsibility to Protect (R2P) have on the local political process?
  12. Rule of Law The rule of law in Sri Lanka was undermined by the armed conflict, militarization, Emergency and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. While there have been calls for a return to the rule of law in the postwar context, what are the challenges as well as limitations of constitutional propriety and rule of law with respect to social change and postwar transformation?

Submission Details:
Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted to reach by 30th June, 2012


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