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School of Law

Non-Human Turn in Law

When: Monday, June 19, 2023 - Tuesday, June 20, 2023, 9:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Where: Colette Bowe Room, Ground Floor, Queens' Building Queen Mary University of London Mile End Road London E1 4NS

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A two-day international colloquium addressing critical and interdisciplinary approaches to legal theory engaged in decentreing the human.

In recent years, we have witnessed an unprecedented opening up of the law towards a different consideration of non-humans. Animals, rivers, mountains, ecosystems, deities, gods, AIs, and robots have suddenly occupied a new place in our legal discussions and have been regarded as persons and subjects of rights in some jurisdictions. In addition, legislation and regulations ranging from the accountability of autonomous synthetic agents and their manufacturers to the status of genetically modified or laboratory-created organisms are multiplying in national and international settings.

There are perhaps three contextual reasons for this ‘non-human turn’ in the law. Firstly, climate change has called our attention to the importance of other forms of life and has questioned our modes and means of production and our understanding of the world and our role in it. If humans have become a geological or climatological force as some suggest, we need new frames of reference to measure the scope and impact of our actions. Secondly, the emergence of new technologies has also forced us to question humanity’s porous boundaries and think of inhuman and more-than-human worlds. From biotechnology to geoengineering and robotics, techniques have opened up new possibilities and also ethical, political and legal challenges in a moment where human/non-human hybrid formations seem to be the norm. Finally, we cannot ignore that this legal turn seems to be part and symptomatic of a broader shift in the humanities and social sciences. From the ontological turn in anthropology to new materialism, feminist posthumanism, science and technology studies, object-oriented ontology, actor-network theory, speculative realism, and other approaches informed by decolonial thinking, critical race studies, queer theory, deep ecology, animal studies, and affect theory, new sets of scholarship has started to bring non-humans multiple agencies to the fore, putting into question the binary dualisms that support human exceptionalism.

The Non-Human Turn in Law International Colloquium seeks to name, explain, and describe these recent developments in the law and also characterise, and therefore consolidate, a wide variety of current critical and interdisciplinary approaches to jurisprudence and legal theory engaged in decentring the human. While problematising the very subject of the Colloquium – from the notion of ‘non-human’ to the very idea of a legal ‘turn’ –, and drawing on different theoretical backgrounds and traditions, participants will wonder what political and institutional assemblages this new consideration of non-humans could bring about to the human and non-human worlds we inhabit.

The Colloquium is supported by the British Academy, the Queen Mary Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Forum on Decentering the Human, the Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context, and the Human Rights Law Centre.

See programme including speakers here: Colloquium Programme [PDF 564KB]

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