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Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context

Research projects

UN Photo/Manuel Elias
UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Designs on International Organisation

This project is run by Dr Isobel Roele

‘Designs on International Organisation’ is an interdisciplinary project which brings the politics of aesthetics to the study of international organisations (IOs). It sets a new research agenda for the field by bringing humanities disciplines – cultural history, literary studies, architecture and art history and theory – into dialogue with core disciplines of law, international relations and anthropology. This is not only an intellectual endeavour. The project sets out to remediate the public’s relationship with IOs in the wake of Brexit and America First. Focusing on the United Nations (UN), it asks: what sort of public institutions are IOs?

As public institutions, IOs are indivisible from the communities they seek to protect, serve, and address - and yet, as global institutions, they function at a distance, administering the world through national authorities and NGOs. Aesthetics mediate the relationship between IOs and ordinary people through appearance and perception. The UN appears in various guises: as a flag-spangled stage for high politics; as a dishwater-dull technocracy; and as a fanciful dream of cosmopolitan unity. Each image – elite, bureaucratic, utopian - alienates the organisation from its publics.

Appearances matter, as do the ways we encounter them: as tourists using stamps from the UN gift shop to mail a letter in its post room; or as visitors to the art galleries which displayed its works during the 2008-2015 renovation. The UN is a hub of art and design: the collection includes Enwonwu, Matisse and Picasso; its New York HQ was designed by Le Corbusier and Niemeyer; and during the 1960s its Charter was calligraphed by the German type-setter Hermann Zapf, and rendered in Mosaic by Moroccan craftsmen alongside a verse from the Koran.

Two insights flow from realising that appearances matter. Firstly, IOs are not a political backdrop for culture, they are themselves dynamic works of art and design. Secondly, aesthetics are not politically neutral. When Guernica was veiled in UN blue for the public announcement of the March 2003 intervention in Iraq; when Secretary General Trygve Lie lobbied for Norway’s ‘ownership’ of the Security Council Chamber; when France donated a Matisse design, ‘Polynesia – The Sky’, which refers to an entity whose self-governing status is still at issue – all these are moments of aesthetic politics. Foregrounding them disrupts the smooth surfaces of the institution’s public face.

Art and design are often treated as ancillary, superficial decoration that could easily be otherwise. This project puts them centre-stage, describing the ambivalence and heterogeneity of the UN project itself through the UN’s jostling aesthetic modes, which make its physical fabric a form of bricolage. These complications demand the viewer’s close attention and engagement. Exhibiting them is a way of addressing public alienation from the institution. If seeing is believing, representing the UN is a powerful political act.

Events exploring this research theme include our conversations on international law and materiality, including 2017’s conversation about art and international law, and 2018’s conversation on architecture and international law.

EU-China Legal and Judicial Cooperation (EUPLANT)

The project is run by Dr Matthieu Burnay.

EU-China Legal and Judicial Cooperation (EUPLANT) is a Jean Monnet Network that aims to study the interactions between the Chinese legal system and the European Union (EU) legal system. Since the establishment of the EU-China Strategic Partnership in 2003, the bilateral relationship between the EU and China has become increasingly comprehensive covering a wide range of economic, political, and people-to-people areas of cooperation. This Jean Monnet Network focuses on an aspect of the relationship that remains very much understudied even if it has arguably become a prominent area of cooperation in the EU-China Strategic Partnership and given rise to rule of law-based concerns. It is at the occasion of the 17th EU-China Summit that the EU and China decided that ‘it is necessary to deepen understanding of each other’s legal systems, and agreed to establish an EU-China Legal Affairs Dialogue for policy exchanges, mutual learning and cooperation in legal affairs’ (EU-China Summit 2015).

EUPLANT aims to serve as a framework for academic support that will offer both theoretical and policy insights into the interactions between the Chinese and the EU legal and judicial systems in their broader geopolitical context. More particularly, the network will assess the extent to which legal transplants and enhanced judicial cooperation can lead to an increased regulatory convergence between the Chinese and EU legal frameworks. Against the background of what some regard as a deterioration of rule of law and increased pressures on civil society and the legal profession in China, EUPLANT will assess both the risks and opportunities of judicial and wider legal cooperation. EUPLANT will organise a set of research, policy, and outreach activities, which will create new avenues for enhanced academic and policy cooperation between the EU and China and engender a better understanding of each other’s legal systems.

EUPLANT brings together European and Chinese academic institutions with an outstanding expertise in EU Law, Chinese law, and the study of EU-China relations. Partner institutions include Queen Mary University of London (coordinator), King’s College London, the University of Leuven, the University of Bologna, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Tsinghua University, Beijing Normal University, and the City University of Hong Kong.

Concept of Laws

This project is led by Professor Ralf Michaels

Law is plural. In all but the simplest situations multiple laws overlap – national laws, subnational laws, supranational laws, non-national laws. And yet, our jurisprudential accounts of law have mostly not taken this in. When we speak of law, we use the singular. The plurality of laws is, at best an afterthought. This is a mistake. Plurality is built into the very reality of law. We no longer need a concept of law. We need a concept of laws.The research project wants to work towards such a concept. It will demonstrate how Hart’s concept of law is insufficient because it cannot properly account for a multitude of legal systems and their interrelations. In order to account for these, the project will work on what I call tertiary rules—rules that play out between legal systems. One type of such a rule is the rule of external recognition, by which one law recognizes another as law. Another type are choice-of-law rules. In addition to this conceptual work, the project also has a normative dimension, concerning the legitimacy of legal systems vis-a-vis each other, the ethics of tertiary norms, and the relevance of power imbalances between legal systems.

Law and Recognition: persons, institutions, and plurality

This project is led by Professor Hans Lindahl and Dr Nicole Roughan

Some idea of ‘recognition’ may seem reassuringly familiar to legal theorists in the Anglo-American tradition of jurisprudence, where a core canon includes defenders and challengers of Hart’s account of a ‘rule of recognition’ at the normative and genealogical foundations of the legal system, or where a Kelsenian grundnorm, conventional practice among officials, or conforming practice among by subjects all directly or indirectly invoke recognition. Practices of recognition are similarly familiar, and equally troublesome, in the fields of international legal theory, conflicts of laws, and legal pluralism, where they generate tools for explaining relations between legal systems whilst generating particular difficulties for globalist or pluralist jurisprudence. Yet in both statist and pluralist jurisprudential traditions, the idea of recognition itself seldom attracts direct attention. Instead, analyses tend to focus on making sense of the normativity that recognition supposedly generates, and debating whether or how it isolates a domain of legality from other normative domains; or domains of legality from each other.

What happens if we ask legal theorists who have worked with but not necessarily on recognition to explain what it is to recognize, or to think directly about what or whom is being recognized and/or doing the recognising, or indeed what is the very practice or process of recognition? Those questions lead quickly to further worries around demarcating the subjects and objects of recognition; to the distinctions and relations between recognition of persons and recognition of norms; and the prospect of interaction between inter-personal and institutional recognition. Direct attention to such questions ought to generate engagement with scholars in the Continental tradition where recognition theory has its foundations; with philosophers of inter-personal recognition, theorists of social ontology working on social and institutional forms of recognition, political theorists working on practices of recognition within or between polities (and their justifications or limits); with theorists of legal plurality and legal pluralism who must explore one legal system’s specific claim to be recognized by another.

In short, concentrated jurisprudential attention to recognition ought to stimulate both inter-tradition and inter-disciplinary thinking, in a similar vein to the ways in which work on law’s normativity or its coercive character remain key points of intersection between such approaches. Ideas about recognition, however, seem to have been sidelined as a point of engagement. On the one hand, from the perspective of the theorist of recognition working in philosophy or political theory (grounded in the various accounts and insights offered by the likes of Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Ricoeur, Levinas, Kojeve, Honneth, Habermas, Taylor, or Young), law’s relationship to recognition may seem formal and instrumental; or law’s recognitional practices may seem a particular but largely untroubling variant of an institutional practice of recognition. On the other hand, from the perspective of the jurisprudent raised on the idea of law as a social institution, replete with norms and forms, it may seem odd to ask whether there is more to recognition than the mere attribution of a status of legality or validity.

Meanwhile, in critical legal theory, law’s reliance on practices of recognition has been considered anything but formal; and law’s seeming dependence on selectivity among practices and practitioners of recognition seem to build a formal practice of ‘misrecognition’ into the internal logic of law. Legal realists, in turn, may be taken to unmask the attempted institutionalisation of recognition itself; leaving open the question whether recognition is always and inevitably a recognition of persons, by persons, and not recognition of norms by institutional forms. To this mix can be added work on legal plurality and pluralism, where recognition carries with it an idea of attribution of a status of legality (typically a state system ‘recognizing’ another as law’) as well as the problematic question of whether such carriage gives too much priority to the dominant system that is doing the attributing. In contexts where inter-systemic recognition of legality is driven by distinctive polities, encompassing religious, cultural or ethnic pluralism, the recognition of law is further entangled with recognition of values surrounding such polities and their practices of self-determination, and with inter-personal practices of recognition and their impact on identities. Issue’s of law’s recognitive practices, and its misrecognition, are particularly important for thinking about the relationships between different legal systems in the context of state-Indigenous legal interactions.

The challenge is to direct attention to the idea and practice of recognition that each of these strands of legal theory invoke. It is a challenge amplified by the need for theory to rethink analytic, descriptive, and normative positions in light of the prevailing pluralist or globalist turn in jurisprudence. It is striking that so much of this work on recognition, including accounts which link inter-personal with political practices of recognition, and which then use recognition of legal institutions to intervene in those practices, have focused on the state and its institutions as the forum or even an agent in recognition practices. The pluralist or globalist accounts of the interaction of state law with other legal orders suggests the need for fresh interrogation of such a focus.

Legal Reasoning in a Global Context: Ethics, Politics, Rhetoric

Convened by Maks Del Mar

This project will explore the ethical, political and rhetorical dimensions of legal reasoning in a global context, including theoretically and historically. We will be thinking about the aesthetics / stylistics of regional, global, transnational, international, imperial and colonial courts (again, past and present), as well as communication between courts, and the ethics and politics of those aesthetics / stylistics. We will also be looking at the specific techniques and devices developed by advocates and judges in those courts for negotiating relations between legal traditions, orders and systems. These techniques and devices would include e.g. recognition of legal status, citation practices, margins of appreciation, refusals to decide, and devices from private international law. In terms of the ethical and political dimensions of the project, we will be exploring which ethical and political traditions / concepts / methods might lend themselves to exploring legal reasoning practices in a global context, e.g. relational feminist approaches, the work of Robert Cover on juris-pathic and juris-generative adjudication, comity, deference, restrained collective self-assertion, hospitality, and others. The project is purposefully broad and flexible, and encompasses a whole range of courts, e.g. the Privy Council, British consular courts, other colonial and imperial courts, admiralty courts, and the usual regional / transnational / non-state courts (ECtHR, ECJ, WTO Tribunal, ICC, ICTY, etc) as well as private courts / arbitration.

Constitutionalizing the Anthropocene

Main researcher Prof. Hans Lindahl

Prof. Hans Lindahl, one of the Chairs of Global Law at QMUL and member of the Centre, will participate as a main researcher in 'Constitutionalizing the Anthropocene,' a large research project run by the Tilburg Law School, the Netherlands. The six-year project was awarded 1.2 million euros by the Dutch Ministry of Education and will run from 2019 through 2025. The purpose of the project is to reimagine law's conceptual foundations for the Anthropocene, articulate them in regulatory modalities that can be legitimate and effectively manage risk, and propose institutional architectures capable of responding to and altering the complexities of human interactions with earth systems, which, if left unchecked, will have potentially catastrophic results for future generations. Lindahl leads the research module on conceptual foundations, focusing on the destabilization of the nature/culture, global/local and public/private distinctions leading from a law of the Holocene to a law of the Anthropocene. 

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